Greene King IPA Championship Round 12 preview
This season's Greene King IPA Championship play-off race is proving to be the most competitive for years with just five points separating the top five clubs heading into the New Year.
Bristol, who have played a game more than their rivals, lead the way on 42 points, with victories achieved over Ealing and Moseley during the festive period. Andy Robinson's men sit out the next round of fixtures, while three of the four sides in the chasing pack – London Welsh (second, 41 points), Leeds Carnegie (fourth, 38) and London Scottish (fifth, 37) - face potentially difficult away trips in Round 12. Rotherham Titans (third, 38 points) are at home for the second week running.
Scottish begin 2014 with a New Year's Day clash against Bedford Blues at Goldington Road. The chances of the Blues maintaining their proud play-off record look remote, as they are 20 points adrift of the top four following a poor first half of the season. They did, however, become the first side to topple London Welsh in the Championship in their last home league outing: 28-26 on November 30. Bedford won last season's corresponding fixture 55-20. Scottish, meanwhile, have surged up the table on the back of a five-game winning run.
A superb second-half performance earned Rotherham a bonus-point win against Bedford in front of a bumper Boxing Day crowd. Cornish Pirates are the next visitors to Clifton Lane in one of three Saturday afternoon fixtures. Last season's corresponding game finished in a 41-28 win for Titans – their first success over the Pirates in eight attempts.
Welsh, who are one point off top spot, travel to St Peter to play struggling Jersey in another 2pm kick-off. While the form book suggests an away win, 11th-placed Jersey will no doubt be desperate to restore some pride after slipping to a 28-18 loss to relegation rivals Ealing Trailfinders in their last home league fixture.
Saturday's action concludes with Plymouth Albion v Leeds Carnegie, kick off 3pm. In-form Carnegie have lost on their last two visits to Brickfields: 25-20 (2011/12) and 32-31 (2012/13). In the four matches since Leeds last won there – 17-6 on April 25, 2009 – the sides have been separated by a margin of five points or less. Leeds head to Devon on the back of four consecutive bonus-point wins in all competitions, while Albion have not won in the league since beating Ealing Trailfinders 20-5 on November 8.
Eleven points separate 10th-placed Nottingham Rugby from bottom-of-the-table Ealing Trailfinders who do battle at Meadow Lane in Sunday's solitary Championship fixture.
Round 12 fixtures
Wednesday January 1
Bedford Blues v London Scottish, KO 15:00
Saturday January 4
Jersey v London Welsh, KO 14:00
Rotherham Titans v Cornish Pirates, KO 14:00
Plymouth Albion v Leeds Carnegie, KO 15:00
Sunday January 5
Nottingham Rugby v Ealing Trailfinders, KO 15.00