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.
In the first of the two-legged semi-finals, Bristol Rugby, regular
season winners for the third time in five years, take on Rotherham
Titans, who finished fourth after 23 rounds of action.
With a large and loyal fan base, an international quality coaching
staff and a playing squad oozing quality throughout, Bristol Rugby
regard themselves as a Premiership club in all but name. And after
a five-year absence they will hope to put that right this year by
winning promotion and bringing Premiership rugby back to the city,
albeit at a new ground in the form of Ashton Gate.
For now though the Memorial Stadium remains their home and on
Saturday, kick-off 14:45pm, the famous old ground plays host to the
Titans, whose two brief dalliances with top flight rugby came over
a decade ago.
Having finished the regular season 16 points clear of their
Yorkshire rivals, with home and away league wins against the Titans
(36-26) and (26-34) and a British & Irish Cup quarter-final
victory thrown in for good measure, Bristol Rugby will be
overwhelming favourites to book their place in the GK IPA
However Rotherham go into the match as the surprise package of the
season, rookie head coach Lee Blackett doing a marvellous job in
steering his side into the Championship's top four by playing an
attractive brand of rugby. In Newcastle-bound Juan Pablo Socino
they also boast the Championship's top points-scorer, the
Argentinian taking his tally for the season to 300 in the Titans'
final round game against Ealing Trailfinders.
With Bristol known for their 15-man style of rugby too, Saturday's
televised first leg should be an absolute cracker.
Sunday's second semi-final, again broadcast live on Sky Sports, is
between Leeds Carnegie and London Welsh, kick-off 13:00 at
Headingley, and sees the third-placed side from the regular season
take on the runners-up.
As British & Irish Cup finalists, Leeds are on course for a
league and cup double. But, regardless of how his side fares in the
run-in, Leeds boss James Lowes can look back on his first full
season as head coach with great satisfaction. The Rugby League
legend has taken the demands of a new sport in his stride and
galvanised a young and largely inexperienced squad into creditable
Leeds will no doubt take great encouragement from their
involvement in last season's play-offs where they beat eventual
champions Newcastle on home soil in the first leg of the 2013
semi-final. But they need to find a way to beat London Welsh first,
having failed to do so in either of their two league meetings to
After scoring 19 unanswered points in the closing stages, Welsh
recorded a 31-24 victory at Headingley on November 3, 2013. At
home, on January 26, Welsh ground out a 19-10 win.
Leeds will have to be wary of London Welsh winger Nick Scott, who
scored twice at Headingley and is in a rich vein of form having
bagged a hat-trick of tries last time out against Nottingham.
"Leeds are a great side; they've played some really good rugby
this year. When we went up to Headingley they really took it to us
and we had to come back from 12 points down, but we're in the
mind-set not to let that happen again," said Scott.
"It's a Championship semi-final and we can't put ourselves in the
same position and hope to claw it back.
"We need to take the lessons learnt from last time. We know
they're a very good team and we know what they'll bring to the
table - some very good attacking rugby.
"But we're getting better all the time, we're confident in
ourselves and we've a good group of individuals.
"Everything's building to the play-offs and we're going to try and
hit the ground running and go hard."
Bristol Rugby vs. Rotherham Titans, Saturday May 10, KO 1445
Leeds Carnegie v London Welsh, Sunday May 11, KO 1300
All matches live on Sky Sports HD.
23 Mar 2023
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