London Welsh and Pirate set Championship final date
May 13, 2012
Lyn Jones' London Welsh side are still on course for promotion to the Aviva Premiership © Getty Images
London Welsh and Cornish Pirates will contest this season's RFU Championship final despite the fact that both sides lost their semi-final second leg clashes on Sunday.
The Exiles lost 24-17 to Bedford Blues at Old Deer Park but won 30-27 on aggregate thanks to their 13-3 first leg triumph. The Pirates lost 29-18 to Bristol at the Memorial Stadium but a thumping 45-24 victory in their opening encounter ensured they also progressed to the two-legged final that will be staged May 23/30.
As a result, Newcastle appear to have nudged a step closer to Aviva Premiership survival as Bristol were the only side left in the competition known to have met the top-flight entry criteria. However, London Welsh are adamant that they can meet the Premiership's all-important 'minimum standards criteria' with a final ruling on their application - and clarification of Newcastle's likely future - set to be delivered before the first leg of the final.
It is understood that London Welsh plan to groundshare next season due to the limitations of their current home. The club have confirmed they are in negotiations with two potential grounds with reports suggesting that they may be The Stoop, home of Premiership side Harlequins, Brentford FC's Griffin Park and Oxford United FC's Kassam Stadium. The Pirates cannot be promoted due to the constraints of their Mennaye Field ground and on-going delays in the construction of a new stadium and therefore did not put themselves forward for an entry audit.
London Welsh, who finished the regular season in fourth place in the table, completed the final line-up - but only just. Three first half penalties from Alex Davies put them in control but an Ollie Dodge try and a James Pritchard conversion kept the Blues in touch at the break. Pritchard converted a penalty two minutes to edge his side ahead only for Nick Scott to strike back with a try for the hosts against the run of play. Davies missed the conversion but added his fourth penalty soon afterwards to make it 17-10.
Forced to chase the game, Bedford were rewarded for their endeavour with a try from replacement Don Barrell and Pritchard converted. Needing ten points to force extra time, the Blues piled forward once again with Neil Cochrane the beneficiary of another sustained spell of pressure. Pritchard added the easy conversion but they were thwarted in their attempts to complete a notable comeback.
Earlier in the day, Cornish Pirates survived a thrilling comeback by Bristol to secure their place in this season's finale. The Pirates entered the clash with a healthy 21 point advantage following their semi-final first leg victory last weekend but they were pushed all the way in the return fixture by a Bristol side that claimed a 29-18 victory but lost 63-53 on aggregate.
Bristol's chances of over-turning a hefty deficit looked even more remote at half-time by which stage a Rob Cook-inspired Pirates side had claimed a 10-7 lead. Bristol rallied with Jon Goodridge crossing to add to his first half try but a further score from the impressive Phil Burgess stretched the Pirates' advantage. The hosts refused to give up and tries from George Watkins and Will Helu plus a Matty James conversion brought the aggregate score back to 60-53 but a final Cook penalty ended Bristol's hopes of a late turnaround.
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