Premiership promotion on the line
April 16, 2014
Bristol's George Watkins in action against title-rivals London Welsh earlier in the season © Getty Images
With just two rounds left in the English Championship season, the teams who will enter the play-offs desperate for promotion to the Aviva Premiership have already been decided.
Bristol, London Welsh, Leeds Carnegie and Rotherham Titans are the four who will contest the semi-finals, with Premiership strugglers Worcester Warriors almost certain to be replacing them in the Championship next season.
Bristol take on London Welsh while Leeds meet Rotherham this weekend in a crucial set of fixtures as the season nears its climax. With promotion on the line, here are Scrum's predictions for the clubs' chances of reaching, then staying in, the Premiership.
The Championship leaders sit four points clear at the top of the table and director of rugby Andy Robinson is certainly preparing for life in the Premiership next season.
The club have been bringing in big-name signings on an almost weekly basis, the stand-out being former Wales captain Ryan Jones. He is joined by players with an abundance of international experience, including former Wales team-mate Dwayne Peel and Samoa's Anthony Perenise. And Bristol do not seem to be finished with their recruitment drive just yet, with reports linking them to international players such as Olly Barkley and Adam Jones.
With owner Steve Lansdown providing the funds, Robinson is assembling a squad that certainly looks capable of winning promotion and staying in the top division for the long term. Newcastle Falcons beware.
Championship prediction: First, champions
The most recent of the four promotion hopefuls to taste Premiership experience, London Welsh have managed to keep a tight ship after relegation from the top flight last season.
Defence coach Ollie Smith, who arrived in December last year, has overseen the meanest defence in the league with the Exiles having conceded 40 fewer points than the next best, London Scottish.
The Exiles have been on a shopping spree of their own, announcing eight signings last month. None of the new men boasts the same international experience as the likes of Ryan Jones, but in players such as Tyson Keats they have at least added Premiership know-how to the squad.
However, after last season's Premiership campaign saw them relegated by 10 points, they will be hard pressed to survive if they manage to clamber back into the league in September.
Championship prediction: Second, losing finalists
Leeds have been undergoing something of a rebrand this year with chairman Sir Ian McGeechan announcing a new board and name change for next season. Yorkshire Carnegie, as the new Leeds will be known, will continue to play their rugby at Headingley Stadium but will focus on creating a Yorkshire-wide rugby set-up in what is a fertile breeding ground for the sport.
They sit third in the Championship, level on points with fellow Yorkshiremen Rotherham. The two clubs meet each other on Sunday in a crucial match as both try to avoid playing the league leaders, likely to be Bristol, in the play-off semi-finals.
Leeds have Premiership pedigree and the facilities to thrive in the top flight, something that cannot be said for the likes of Rotherham. But with all the off-field distractions next season, staying in the Premiership would be a big ask if they somehow secure promotion.
Championship prediction: Third, losing semi-finalists
Rotherham last tasted Premiership rugby in 2003-4 when they were relegated with a paltry three points, making Worcester's current season look rather successful in comparison.
Since then, the Titans have been Championship stalwarts, staying in the division for a decade. This season they have presented a real attacking threat, scoring more points than anyone other than leaders Bristol.
While promotion would seem unlikely this year, the Titans will have some reorganising to do if they pull off an upset. With a capacity of 2,500, their Clifton Lane ground is too small for Aviva Premiership standards, which demand a stadium with space for 10,000. Rotherham are understood to have agreed terms on a groundshare with Barnsley Football Club, but the experience of London Welsh and their relocation to Oxford shows that such a move could come at a cost in terms of fanbase. Will Rotherham supporters really appreciate the half hour drive out of town to watch their team in a half-empty stadium?
Championship prediction: Fourth, losing semi-finalists
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