British & Irish Cup semi-final preview
Bristol Rugby and Leeds Carnegie will do battle for the fifth time this season when they meet in the second B&I Cup semi-final at the Memorial Stadium on Sunday, kick-off 15:00. The winners will face defending champions Leinster A in the final on May 23.
With both sides involved in the end-of-season play-offs and kept apart in the semi-final draw, Sunday's last-four cup shootout could quite possibly end up being a dress rehearsal for the Greene King IPA Championship final. And even greater significance is given to the tie as it will be one of the last matches to be staged at Bristol's spiritual home before the club's summer move south of the river to Ashton Gate.
Bristol won the B&I Cup in 2011, beating Bedford 17-14, and, like Leinster, are in contention to become the first side to win the trophy twice. Bristol and Leeds both qualified for the knockout stages from Pool 5 – Leeds finishing top of the group by one point after a 24-19 final-round victory over their West Country rivals at Headingley. Bristol went through as one of the best runners-up.
The head-to-head record in all competitions this season stands at two wins apiece, with Leeds coming out on top in the league, 28-22, on their last visit to Bristol on December 1, 2013. That win ended an 11-season barren run for Leeds at the Memorial Stadium. The biggest winning margin in matches between the sides this season is a mere six points.
Whatever the outcome between Bristol and Leeds, a third Anglo-Irish B&I final is guaranteed after Leinster A made it through on try count at the expense of Pontypridd at a sold-out Sardis Road.
Just as they had done in last year's final against Newcastle, Leinster scored in the last minute to take the tie into extra-time. Ponty were leading 22-15 until replacement wing Andrew Boyle's 87th-minute try, which Carl Marsh converted to level the scores. Neither side added to their tally thereafter, meaning Leinster progressed having crossed three times to Pontypridd's once.