TRU Contributor Connor Hickinbottom takes a look at this weekend's fixtures in the Championship
Friday 10th November
Bedford Blues v Nottingham Rugby
Bedford lost 38-36 at Yorkshire Carnegie
Nottingham won 34-17 against Richmond
Yorkshire Carnegie’s post proved to be the difference in Bedford’s last outing, the Blues were denied a draw at Headingley in the dying seconds as Will Hooley saw his conversion hit the upright.
Spurred on by that dramatic ending, the Blues will be looking to rebound as they face an in-form Nottingham side.
The Green & Whites are currently on a streak of three victories and are sitting third in the league.
They have, however, shown some defensive frailties – two of their past three victories have been won by a three-point margin. This was somewhat answered last week as they put on an excellent defensive performance in the second half to shut out Richmond.
Their defensive resolve will certainly be tested by the Blues who, like Nottingham, have been excellent attacking form this season and spurred on by their frustration at Headingley will be looking to rack up a big score.
Prediction: Nottingham by 3 – This is going to be a game filled with attacking rugby and could really go either way, I’m going with Nottingham on recent form but expect it to be close.
Jersey Reds v London Scottish
Jersey lost 36-17 against Bristol Rugby
London Scottish lost 13-15 against Hartpury College
London Scottish had victory stolen from that at the death in their last outing, Mike Wilcox going over in the final play of the game. This would have given Scottish just their second victory of the season, a feat they will be attempting to achieve in the Channel Islands.
It was a bitter end to the game for Scottish, who haven’t won in the league since the first game of the season, a 66th minute red card for Danny Kenny proved to be the difference as Hartpury profited on the man advantage – Kenny was given a three-game suspension for this red card and will play no part this weekend.
Jersey Reds, like Scottish, have been struggling to get victories on the board this season. They sit a point in front of their opponents and haven’t won in the league since September.
With both teams desperate to get a win under their belt this is the perfect time for one of them to make a statement to the league. It will be the Channel Islanders who go into this game as the favourites, no matter what their form may suggest the Reds abilities at home are notorious, they will pressure Scottish using their always formidable pack and enforce their style of play on the game.
Scottish will be well aware of the threat Jersey pose, the question now is how they go about stopping it.
Prediction: Jersey by 6 – Relatively low scoring game with the home advantage proving the difference.
Richmond v Doncaster Knights
Richmond lost 34-17 at Nottingham
Doncaster Knights lost 46-29 against Cornish Pirates
The Knights will be buoyed by the return of last year’s player of the season, Jack Ram, when they travel down to the capitol on Friday night.
The influential back-rower has returned from New Zealand following the completion of the ITM Mitre 10 Cup.
Also returning to Castle Park is Skills and Backs Coach Paul Cooke, the former Super League star re-joined the Knights after a coaching stint with Leigh Centurions. His return will be most welcomed by the Knights, he was key in their return to the Championship and helped guide the Knights to the play-off final against Bristol in the 2015/16 season.
The West Yorkshire outfit are coming off a disappointing 46-29 loss at home to Cornish Pirates in front of the Sky Sports cameras, but have a solid record against Richmond, last year the Knights convincingly beat Richmond home and away.
However, Richmond have looked a completely different team this season. They have notched three wins so far this season, another two and they will equal their tally from last year, in impressive fashion.
All three of the amateur sides victories have been bonus point wins, they have consistently put thirty points on the board and will be hoping to do the same once more at the Athletic Ground.
Prediction: Doncaster by 12 – The return of ‘Cookie’ and Ram will completely transform the Knights, expect them to go on a streak starting this Friday.
Saturday 11th November
Bristol Rugby v Rotherham Titans
Bristol Rugby won 36-17 at Jersey Reds
Rotherham Titans lost 23-18 against Ealing Trailfinders
If there was ever a time for Rotherham Titans to start their season it is this weekend, they face Championship favourites Bristol Rugby at Ashton Gate.
All signs point to a heavy defeat for the Titans, they are without a win through the first seven games whilst Bristol have won all seven.
The Titans have conceded the most amount of points in the Championship, Bristol on the other hand have scored the most.
It’s difficult to draw any positives for the Titans going into this game, on paper it is an impossible task and it looks like it’s just going to be another nail in their relegation coffin, they will need a miracle to leave with any kind of points at all.
However, with absolutely no pressure on Rotherham, they may be able to play with some freedom. They were also completely written off against Ealing Trailfinders but they pushed Bristol’s main Championship rivals right up until the death.
Bristol will be aware of the problems Rotherham caused Ealing two weeks ago and will have been drilled all week for such events. It all looks a formality for Bristol but you can never say never.
Prediction: Bristol by 40 – I can’t see anything other than a heavy defeat for the Titans, it wouldn’t be surprising if the visitors left Ashton Gate without a single point on the board.
Ealing Trailfinders v Yorkshire Carnegie
Ealing Trailfinders won 23-18 against Rotherham Titans
Yorkshire Carnegie won 38-36 against Bedford Blues
It is a replay of last year’s play-off semi-final as Ealing Trailfinders host Yorkshire Carnegie.
It was Carnegie who triumphed during the play-offs but times have changed since then. They are not the same team they were last year, several key players left in the summer and they are still struggling to yet find their stride. They have their upright to thank for the victory against Bedford.
Ealing also hit some difficulty in their last outing, whilst Carnegie had to rely on their post Ealing had the boot of Peter Lydon to thank, their replacement fly-half secured the game with two second-half penalties.
It will be a difficult game for both sides, Ealing will be looking to keep the pressure up on Bristol whilst Carnegie will be looking to put a string of a victories together for the first time since September.
Ealing stepped up their preparations this week by training with London Irish, the team who stopped Carnegie in the play-off final, they will be hoping to tap into this knowledge and enact some retribution for their semi-final defeat.
Prediction: Ealing by 12 – The Trailfinders are far superior to Carnegie this season and will have something to prove to themselves after their result against the Titans.
Sunday 12th November
Cornish Pirates v Hartpury College
Cornish Pirates won 46-29 at Doncaster Knights
Hartpury College won 15-13 at London Scottish
Finally, what promises to be a thrilling encounter between a rejuvenated Cornish Pirates side and a Hartpury College side thoroughly enjoying their first season in the Championship.
The Pirates made up for a slow start to the season in their last outing, beating the Knights 46-29 in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
It was just their second victory this season and a much needed one for the Pirates, the bonus point win has left them just five points adrift from fourth place.
It has also left them just three points behind their visitors. Hartpury have settled quickly into the Championship with some impressive performances, they also showed in their last outing that they can win ugly when needed. A try in the 80th minute secured their 15-13 victory over London Scottish and gives them an indication of how this weekend’s game could play out.
The Pirates employ bully tactics at home, forcing their opposition to meet them up-front and turning the game into a dog fight, Hartpury will need to avoid being pulled into this type of game if they want to leave Cornwall with the victory.
Prediction: Pirates by 10 – It’s hard to bet against the Pirates after such a dominant display against the Knights - especially when they are at home!