British & Irish Cup Round 5 preview
Defending British & Irish Cup champions Leinster A need one point from the final two rounds of pool action to be mathematically certain of a place in the quarter-final draw of this year's competition.
The Irish province, extra-time winners over Newcastle in the 2012/13 final, kick-off this weekend's programme with a Friday evening clash against Moseley at Donnybrook. The first meeting between the sides ended in a 24-22 victory for Leinster, who hold a 10-point cushion at the top of Pool 1 over second-placed Cross Keys following four straight victories.
The remaining two matches on Friday night are likely to have a significant bearing on who goes through to the knockout stages as winners of Pool 4. Plymouth Albion, who entertain Stirling County, and Munster A, who are up against Nottingham at St Mary's RFC, are currently joint top on 13 points. Albion won 38-12 in the first leg against Stirling, while two-time finalists and former champions Munster edged out Nottingham 17-16 at Meadow Lane back in October. Nottingham are currently three points off the pace and need to win in Ireland to keep their qualification hopes alive.
London Welsh play Pontypridd on home soil for the first time since the 1993/94 season, in a game that the Exiles must win if they are to entertain any hopes of progressing beyond the pool stages. Welsh are three points behind joint leaders Pontypridd and London Scottish and will be looking to overturn a 29-22 defeat at Sardis Road back in October in Saturday's clash at the Kassam Stadium. All five previous home games against their Valleys opponents have come at Old Deer Park, with Welsh winning two matches to Pontypridd's three. Scottish head north to take on Edinburgh Academicals.
Rotherham's only defeat of the campaign to date came in Round 2 against Connacht Eagles – their opponents at Clifton Lane on Saturday. At 25-24 up with a minute to go, Titans appeared to be heading home from Galway with the points. But Connacht full-back Darragh Leader stepped up to land a long-range penalty kick to hand the Irish side a 27-25 victory. Rotherham top Pool 3 by two points from former finalists Bedford Blues, who travel to west Wales to play Llanelli at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday. A 29-24 victory over Llanelli in Round 2 provided the Blues with their first win in any competition six matches into the season.
Pool 5 is a straight shoot-out between leaders Bristol Rugby and second-placed Leeds Carnegie. Two points separate the sides going into the next round of fixtures, which should, on paper, result in bonus point victories for the Championship promotion hopefuls, who meet, in what is shaping up to be a winner-takes-all finale, at Headingley on January 18. Bristol put 78 unanswered points on Aberavon, the visitors to the Memorial Ground on Sunday, while Leeds travel to the Scottish Borders on Saturday to play a Gala side that was routed 86-8 when the sides first met at Clifton Park, home of York RUFC.
Inaugural B&I Cup winners and runaway Pool 6 leaders Cornish Pirates booked their place in the quarter-finals with two games to go. A fifth straight bonus-point victory at home to Ayr on Sunday would not only maintain their perfect record in the competition but also put them a step closer to securing top seed status in the quarter-final draw. Pirates won 53-10 when the sides met in Round 2.
Round 5 fixtures
Friday January 10
Leinster A v Moseley, KO 18:00
Munster A v Nottingham Rugby, KO 19:30
Plymouth Albion v Stirling, KO 19:45
Saturday January 11
London Welsh v Pontypridd, KO 14:00
Edinburgh Academicals v London Scottish, KO 14:00
Rotherham Titans v Connacht Eagles, KO 14:00
Cross Keys v Ealing Trailfinders, KO 15:00
Llanelli v Bedford Blues, KO 15:00
Gala v Leeds Carnegie, KO 15:00
Jersey v Ulster Ravens, KO 15:00
Sunday January 12
Bristol Rugby v Aberavon, KO 15:00
Cornish Pirates v Ayr, KO 15:00