Championship Play-Off Preview 02.05.15


This weekend's Greene King IPA Championship semi-finals involve four former Premiership sides who are all bidding to return to the top level of English club rugby.

Bristol, regular season winners for the fourth time in six years, take on Rotherham Titans at this stage of the competition for the second year running, while London Scottish find themselves up against Worcester Warriors after making the Championship play-offs for the first time.

Bristol v Rotherham Titans, Saturday 2 May, kick-off 1.30pm. Live on Sky Sports

Ashton Gate is sure to be packed to the rafters on Saturday for a game which pits together two in-form teams who like to play entertaining rugby.

Rotherham Titans

Fourth-placed Rotherham had expected to face Worcester in the play-offs but Bristol's stunning 30-26 victory at Sixways in round 22 saw them sit atop the table instead.

"It was a cracking game, a very good performance from us and the boys now know that they can come up here and win which could be important if we meet again," said Bristol had coach Sean Holley.

"But what we also know is that we are in exactly the same position as we were 12 months ago when we finished top of the pile and failed to win promotion. The slate is wiped clean and now we have to concentrate fully on Rotherham."

Bristol rugby

Bristol took their points tally to 103 for the regular season - a new competition record - with their victory at Sixways, and they haven't lost in the league since being turned over by Cornish Pirates on the first Saturday in February.

During that nine-match winning run they have amassed 355 points, at an average of 39 per game, scoring 52 tries in the process.

Rotherham, meanwhile, claimed fourth spot after winning six of their last seven games in the league, their only defeat coming against Bristol when they were edged out 27-25, at Clifton Lane on 21 March.

Bristol are on a seven-game winning run against the Titans, and will be strong favourites to extend that sequence on home soil. During that period, however, the winning margin has never been more than 11 points and they will take Rotherham lightly at their peril.

Outstanding head coach Lee Blackett will leave the club at the end of the season to take up the backs coach position at Wasps, and the 32-year-old would love nothing more than to see the Titans joining him in the Aviva Premiership.

"Facing Bristol is going to be tough and we know we are the underdogs," he said.

"But we are in form, we are playing well and now we have to make sure we take this through to the next week."

In last season's semi-finals, Rotherham had to make up a three-point deficit from the first leg after Bristol won 17-14.

Jamie Broadley's late try had given the Titans real hope, and they sensed a potential shock was on the cards in the return match when they led 11-3 at half-time.

But Bristol used all their experience to claw their way back though, and the boot of Nicky Robinson saw them prevail 22-11 on the day and 39-25 on aggregate.

London Scottish v Worcester Warriors, Saturday 2 May, kick-off 1.45pm

British & Irish Cup champions Worcester's bid to win the second and most prized piece of silverware on offer at this level begins with a trip to London Scottish, who they defeated home and away during the regular season.

The GKIPA Championship's leading try scorer Mark Bright scored two tries on his return from England Sevens duty but it wasn't enough to prevent Scottish slipping to a 34-17 defeat when the Exiles played Worcester at The Athletic Ground just before Christmas.

After Bright on 24 tries, Worcester boast the next four players - Sam Betty, Max Stelling, Tom Biggs and Sam Smith - in the division's top try-scorers chart. Having such a wealth of attacking talent has helped Worcester set a new competition record for tries (122) and points (858) scored.

Worcester Warriors

With 335 points conceded, Worcester also possessed the best defensive record over the course of the 22-game regular season.

Bright got on the scoresheet again in the return match at Sixways at the end of March, but Worcester ran out convincing 56-15 winners. Eight different players got their names on the scoresheet for the Warriors that day.

Reflecting on his side's defeat to Bristol, Warriors director of rugby Dean Ryan said: "We have played 160 minutes of rugby against Bristol and it has been a four-point ball game each time.

"We wanted to come top of the pile but we didn't and, ultimately, we want to be in the Premiership and I am sure Bristol do so we have to work really hard to do that.

"We have to get through London Scottish and we will have to work really hard and Bristol will have to work really hard to get past Rotherham," said Ryan.

London Scottish

Scottish go into the match on the back of a 19-3 loss to Rotherham - their second defeat on Yorkshire soil in the space of a week.

"Losing to Bristol will make Dean Ryan an angry man and that makes for an angry team who will want to make a statement," said London Scottish director of rugby Mike Friday.

"We need to prepare for a huge, huge battle. Worcester's finishing against us this season has been ruthless.

"They have fantastic resources but we are more than capable of competing against Worcester."

Championship play-off semi-finals (two legs)

Sat 2nd May 1.45pm - London Scottish vs Worcester (Richmond Athletic Ground)
Sat 2nd May 1.30pm - Bristol vs Rotherham (Ashton Gate) (SS)

Fri 8th May 7.45pm - Worcester vs London Scottish (Sixways)
Sun 10th May 1.45pm - Rotherham vs Bristol (Abbeydale, Sheffield) (SS)

Championship play-off final (two legs)

Wed 20th May 7.45pm (SS)
Wed 27th May 7.45pm (SS)

SS = live on Sky Sports

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