GKIPAC Play-Off Final - 1st Leg Preview19/05/2015
The 2014/15 Greene King IPA Championship season has followed the
script many people imagined it would do once Worcester were
relegated from the Premiership to join Bristol in the second tier
of English rugby.
But while the 22-game regular campaign and, to a lesser extent, the semi-finals followed a predictable path, it would take a very brave person to call the end-of-season showpiece between two of the powerhouses of the game which promises to take Championship rugby onto another level. The first leg of the two-legged final takes place this Wednesday, May 20th, at Ashton Gate in Bristol, with the return match at Sixways a week later. Both games are live on Sky.
Overwhelming pre-season favourites for the Championship title,
Bristol and Worcester have been the two stand-out teams in the
division, breaking all manner of records along the way.
As well as setting a new points record for the Championship with 103, no other team in the history of the competition has been bettered supported than Bristol, who are enjoying bigger crowds (up three per cent) than when they last graced the top flight in 2008/09.
With a crowd close to the 12,200 capacity expected for the home
leg against Worcester on 20 May, Bristol's aggregate attendance for
the current campaign (regular season and play-offs) is set to break
through the 100,000 barrier. Bristol earned the right to choose
when to play the home leg of the tie through finishing top of the
table after the regular season and opted to kick off the final on
their home patch.
Nine months have passed since the teams last met at Ashton Gate on the first weekend in September, Bristol taking the honours 23-19 after Ben Mosses crossed for the third of their tries in the final minute.
That match was a great advert for the Championship and so too was the return fixture at Sixways, which Bristol again edged 30-26. In doing so, they ended Worcester's unbeaten home record.
Jersey will be among the other sides in the Championship following the fates of both finalists closely. The Islanders enjoyed some close tussles with both clubs this season, and were the only side apart from Bristol to beat Worcester, ending the Warriors' lengthy run of victories with a 23-21 win at St Peter in March. Jersey also troubled Dean Ryan's men in the first leg, gaining two bonus points in a 32-29 defeat at Sixways, and Bristol did not have it all their own way in two league encounters - most observers agreed Jersey were unfortunate to gain just a single bonus point from the two encounters, which finished 17-27 at St Peter, and 40-29 at Ashton Gate.
Historically the side that wins the first leg of the Championship goes on to claim the promotion prize. Exeter held a slender 9-6 advantage over Bristol in the inaugural Championship final before going on to complete the job in an emphatic fashion at the Memorial Stadium, while Worcester (2011) and London Welsh (2012 & 2014) and Newcastle (2013) have followed suit after boasting a first leg advantage.
Championship play-off semi-finals (two legs)
Sat 2nd May 1.45pm - London Scottish vs Worcester (Richmond Athletic Ground) - 22-27
Sat 2nd May 1.30pm - Bristol vs Rotherham (Ashton Gate) (SS) 32-20
Fri 8th May 7.45pm - Worcester vs London Scottish (Sixways) 38-15 - Worcester win 65-37 on aggregate
Sun 10th May 1.45pm - Rotherham vs Bristol (Abbeydale, Sheffield) (SS) 16-24 - Bristol win 56-36 on aggregate
Championship play-off final (two legs)
Wed 20th May 7.45pm - Bristol v Worcester (Ashton Gate) (SS)
Wed 27th May 7.45pm - Worcester v Bristol (Sixways) (SS)
SS = live on Sky Sports