British & Irish Cup Round 3 preview
The British & Irish Cup enters the double-header phase where the same two teams face each other on back-to-back weekends in December.
In all bar one of the six pools there are top-of-the-table clashes to look forward to, meaning the next fortnight is likely to be make-or-break time for many of the participants.
Something has to give in Pool 1 as pool leaders and defending champions Leinster 'A' go up against their nearest rivals Cross Keys. Along with Pontypridd, Cross Keys are the only Welsh side to reach the knockout stages of the cross-border competition. Both sides have nine points after recording wins in their first two games. Moseley play Ealing Trailfinders at Billesley Common. Ealing go into the tie on a high, having won for the first time this season with a 28-18 victory at Jersey.
Pool 2 pacesetters and defending Welsh Premiership champions Pontypridd welcome in-form Championship side London Scottish to Sardis Road. A 3,400-strong crowd turned out to see the Valley Commandos' last B&I Cup fixture: a commendable 29-22 win over London Welsh that gave Cardiff Blues-bound coach Dale McIntosh a fitting send-off. Scottish are second in the pool with winless London Welsh and Edinburgh Academicals, who play each other at Old Deer Park, bringing up the rear.
Pool 3 is shaping up to be the tightest of pools with just two points separating all four sides a third of the way through the fixtures. Bedford's narrow win over Llanelli in round two – their first victory of the season – puts them level on points with the Scarlets. The improving Blues will go into the game in buoyant mood after becoming the first side to beat London Welsh in the Championship this season. A first-ever meeting with Rotherham Titans awaits Llanelli in round 3, while Bedford head to Ireland to play Connacht Eagles.
For the second year running, Plymouth Albion and past winners Munster A are paired together in Devon. This Pool 4 tie is sure to be a keenly-awaited affair as both sides are unbeaten and top the pool with nine points apiece. Munster won 26-22 at Brickfields in the pool stages of last year's competition. Nottingham are away to Stirling County.
Aberavon face three B&I Cup games in quick succession after their original tie against Bristol was abandoned and rescheduled between the Wizards' two games against Pool 5 leaders Leeds Carnegie. Bristol are at home to Gala prior to their trip to the Talbot Athletic Ground on Tuesday December 10th.
In Pool 6, inaugural B&I Cup winners Cornish Pirates come up against Championship rivals Jersey, who they defeated at home and away in the first and last matches of the 2012/13 league campaign. Pirates, like Pontypridd in Pool 2, are the only side to boast a perfect 10 points from 10 record after the first two rounds of action. Influential Jersey scrum-half Nicky Griffiths heads a list of former Pirates set to return to their former home. The remaining Pool 6 tie sees Ulster Ravens travel to Ayr.
Round 3 fixtures
Friday December 6
Moseley v Ealing Trailfinders, KO 19.30
Plymouth Albion v Munster 'A', KO 19.45
Saturday December 7
London Welsh v Edinburgh Academicals, 14:00
Leinster A v Cross Keys, 14:30
Pontypridd v London Scottish, 14:30
Connacht Eagles v Bedford Blues, 14:30
Aberavon v Leeds Carnegie, KO 15:00
Stirling County v Nottingham, KO 15:00
Ayr v Ulster Ravens, KO 15:00
Llanelli v Rotherham Titans, KO 15:30
Cornish Pirates v Jersey, KO 19:00
Sunday December 8
Bristol Rugby v Gala, KO 14:00