British & Irish Cup Round 4 preview
Greene King IPA Championship sides Plymouth Albion, Cornish Pirates and Bristol are proudly flying the flag for the West Country as this season's British & Irish Cup competition enters the fourth round.
All three English sides top their respective pools, with the Pirates, inaugural B&I Cup winners back in 2010, best placed to book an early slot in the knockout phase. The Duchy outfit holds a nine-point lead at the top of Pool 6 after a last-gasp 31-20 win over Jersey at the Mennaye Field maintained their perfect record. Should they get a fourth bonus point win in the return match at St Peter this weekend, and Ayr fail to do likewise away to Ulster Ravens, Ian Davies' men will be mathematically certain of a place in the last eight with two rounds to go.
Albion have a stiffer task on their hands despite making it three wins out of three with a 17-7 home win over 2012 champions Munster 'A'. The Devon side a four-point lead over their Irish rivals at the top of Pool 4 going into the second part of their double-header, to be played at Waterford RFC on Friday evening.
Bristol, meanwhile, appear to face a two-way tussle with Leeds Carnegie to finish top of Pool 5 after a record-breaking 78-0 win in Tuesday night's rearranged fixture against Aberavon put them two points clear of Carnegie. Bristol scored 12 tries as they powered to the club's biggest ever win in Cup history. Bristol play their third game in six days when they take on Gala in the Scottish Borders this weekend, while Leeds will hope to back up last Saturday's 41-22 success over Aberavon with a follow up victory over the Wizards at Brantingham Park, the home of Hull Ionians. Leeds beat London Scottish 26-3 the last time they hosted an 'on the road' game there, in March this year.
Leeds's' Yorkshire rivals Rotherham will fancy their chances of taking another step towards quarter-final qualification as they welcome Llanelli to Clifton Lane. Following a 20-16 win over Llanelli in the first-ever meeting between the sides, the Titans hold a narrow one-point lead over Connacht Eagles – shock 17-8 winners over Bedford Blues in the last round - in the Pool 3 standings. Lee Blackett's men have only lost once at home all season – to Championship league leaders London Welsh.
Cross Keys will need to produce a special performance to turnaround a 31-0 loss at the hands of defending champions Leinster 'A' when the two sides meet again at Pandy Park on Saturday. The defeat at Donnybrook ended a seven-game winning run for Cross Keys, who haven't been beaten on home turf since losing to domestic league and cup champions Pontypridd on September 21. Leinster A lead Pool 1 by four points.
Seasoned B&I Cup campaigners Pontypridd hold sway in Pool 2 following a 27-20 win over London Scottish, who they meet again this weekend. London Welsh travel to Edinburgh Academicals looking to back up Saturday's 73-10 win at Old Deer Park.
Round 4 fixtures
Friday December 13
Munster A v Plymouth Albion, KO 19:30
Ulster Ravens v Ayr, KO 19:30
Ealing Trailfinders v Moseley, KO 19:45
Nottingham Rugby v Stirling County, KO 20:00
Saturday December 14
Edinburgh Academicals v London Welsh, KO 14:00
Bedford Blues v Connacht Eagles, KO 14:00
Rotherham Titans v Llanelli, KO 14:00
Leeds Carnegie v Aberavon, KO 14:00
Cross Keys v Leinster A, KO 15:00
London Scottish v Pontypridd, KO 15:00
Gala v Bristol Rugby, KO 15:00
Jersey v Cornish Pirates, KO 15:00