British & Irish Cup Round 4 preview
This weekend sees a reversal of the Round 3 fixtures as the race for top spot and the ultimate prize of qualification for the quarter-final stages - intensifies in the respective British & Irish Cup pools.
2011 B&I finalists Bedford Blues defend the only perfect record left in the competition when they take on Neath at Goldington Road on Saturday in the second part of their double-header against the Welsh side. The Blues have never lost a home tie in this competition, with eight wins – including the prized scalp of Worcester in the 2011 semi-final – and one draw from nine outings. The manner of their 62-12 destruction of the Welsh All Blacks at the Gnoll last weekend suggests that record should be safe on Saturday. Another five points would all but mathematically guarantee Bedford safe passage through to the knockout stages as winners of Pool 2.
Pool 1 leaders Bristol also came back over the Severn Bridge with a priceless win in the bag. The West Countrymen are involved in what appears to be a two-horse with Ulster Ravens to win the pool. While Bristol beat Bridgend 32-8 at Brewery Field, Ulster’s second string easily accounted for Cardiff at Ravenhill. The Irish province now trail Bristol, the 2011 winners, by just one point.
Having beaten Swansea for the first time in their history, Cornish Pirates will be looking to achieve back-to-back wins against the ‘All Whites’ and further cement their position at the top of Pool 3. The Pirates are four points ahead of Carmarthen who narrowly beat Dundee at home in Round 3.
Pool 4 is Newcastle’s to lose after a third straight victory put them six points clear of Newport who they meet again at Kingston Park on Sunday. Newcastle took the points from the first encounter after a 26-10 victory but the Black & Ambers ‘won’ the second half seven-nil to give them plenty of heart going into the return fixture.
Leinster A and Pontypridd are inseparable in Pool 5 following victories on the road in Round 3. The Irish province came away from Jersey with a hard-fought 16-12 win, while Pontypridd delighted their hardy band of travelling supporters with a 30-24 success against Leeds Carnegie at West Park. Leeds travel to Pontypridd this weekend twelve months on from their 18-7 loss at Sardis Road in last season’s competition while Jersey head over to Ireland.
Moseley suffered a setback to their chances of winning Pool 6 after going down to an 18-11 defeat to Gala in the Scottish Borders. But the Birmingham side is still two points ahead of Gala and no doubt intent on revenge at Billesley Common this weekend.
Munster A’s defence of the crown they won so impressively last year is in good shape following a third straight Pool 7 win. The 36-21 success over Rotherham at Clifton Lane puts them four points ahead of the Titans who they meet again on home soil this weekend.
Doncaster continue to enjoy contrasting fortunes in the league and cup. While the Knights have spent the majority of the Championship season languishing at wrong end of the table their B&I Cup form has been much better with two wins from three. The latest victory came away to Llandovery who sit level on 10 points at the top of Pool 8. Saturday’s clash between the two sides at Castle Park could prove pivotal to the outcome of the pool.
Friday December 14
Bristol v Bridgend, KO 19.45
Munster A v Rotherham Titans, KO 19.00
Plymouth Albion v Aberavon, KO 19.45
Saturday December 15
Cardiff v Ulster Ravens, KO 14.30
Bedwas v Stirling, KO 14.30
Bedford Blues v Neath, KO 15.00
Dundee v Carmarthen, KO 14.00
Swansea v Cornish Pirates, KO 16.30
Connacht Eagles V Cross Keys, KO 14.30
Pontypridd v Leeds Carnegie, KO 14.30
Llanelli v London Scottish, KO 14.30
Moseley v Gala, KO 15.00
Melrose v Nottingham, KO 13.45
Doncaster Knights v Llandovery, KO 14.30
Sunday December 16
Newcastle Flacons v Newport, KO 15.00
Leinster A v Jersey, KO 14.30