Battle hotting up for remaining last eight places
THE refreshing thing about this season's British & Irish Cup is that most of the teams involved are taking it really seriously, with only a handful of mismatches during the pool stages of the competition.
The Cornish Pirates have come through a potentially tricky qualifying group unbeaten in five games, with a final match to come in Belfast on Friday against Ulster Ravens, a team who again probably should have done better than they have in this tournament.
Ian Davies will of course want his team to win in Northern Ireland and get the best possible seeding they can achieve for the quarter-final draw, but the real excitement this weekend will be in the three pools still up for grabs.
In Pool 2, leaders London Scottish go head to head with neighbours and deadly rivals London Welsh in a game the Welsh must win to progress. Yet even that might not be enough as down the M4 and across the Severn Bridge third-place Pontypridd take on Edinburgh at Sardis Road. They will probably beat the Scots handsomely and that could just be enough to put them through.
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The top spot in Pool 4 is very much up for grabs too, with leaders Plymouth Albion away at Nottingham and second placed Munster away to Stirling. The Irish side should win well on the road and the pressure is on Albion to do the same and keep them at bay.
Meanwhile in Pool 5 there is an intriguing clash between two of the Championship's major promotion contenders as Bristol travel to Headingley to take on Leeds. Big money is already being spent at the Memorial Ground ahead of an anticipated Premiership status next season, and Bristol need to avoid defeat in Yorkshire on Saturday to stay on top in this group.
The cup takes a rest after this weekend until the start of April, but on the subject of money, there is sadly a severe shortage of it at Redruth right now and the decision of the club to no longer pay players has already forced some to leave.
These are indeed dark days at the Recreation Ground for a proud club who have had their share of financial dilemmas in recent years and the sum of money apparently owed would certainly appear to justify the decisions being taken. The gulf in funding from the RFU between the top tier clubs and the National Leagues doesn't help either, but that isn't likely to change much in the near future, if at all.
Sadly for the Reds, there looks like being a lot more pain to be endured on and off the field before things improve and without a win on the road all season they are under real pressure to win their remaining five home games to avoid getting dragged into a relegation scrap.
One supporter suggested to me recently that perhaps dropping down another level might not be such a bad thing. Nobody wants to see that, but he had a point. From a purely economic perspective the teams in National 3 South West do have a much more local look about them and the club needs to save money, but is such an extreme measure really the way forward?
Rugby Union as a sport has struggled with the whole concept of professionalism ever since the outset in 1995, and only last week Nottingham announced they had narrowly avoided liquidation through a major new investment deal. Lifelines like that are hard to come by in Cornwall, but I sincerely wish Redruth every success in their own battle to turn their fortunes around.