Now play-off race is wide open
SUDDENLY the Championship play-offs have got really interesting. A win on Sunday for the Pirates would have put them into the much coveted fourth place in the table and heaped pressure on Leeds and Bristol, but a second half display as flat as last week's pancakes changed all that.
London Scottish were good, but not great. They are now casting their eyes up above and suggesting that they might make the play-offs themselves. It's not impossible and only a fool would bet against it after a weekend of crazy results in the competition, but I can't see it happening.
Mind you nobody really expected Doncaster to beat Leeds, although the Knights were clinging on at the end, while Rotherham put up a spirited fight at Bristol.
Plymouth Albion came within a whisker of shocking Bedford but Nottingham refused to play at Jersey because they didn't like the look of the pitch. Allegedly.
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Reports from the island suggested that Martin Haag's men had also turned down the option of a kick-off 24 hours later, which leaves me wondering if the pressure is starting to get to them too. Jersey are no push-overs on their own park and desperately need to make home advantage count with Doncaster now breathing down their necks again at the bottom of the table.
Nottingham are newcomers to the play-off scene and were also downed by the resurgent Scottish recently. One more slip-up means they will be vulnerable to the chasing trio, Pirates, Bristol and Leeds, who they still have to play along with the Falcons. That will be a tough run-in.
Of more pressing concern though to the Pirates coaching team will be the way their charges fell off the pace so badly in the second-half on Sunday.
You can't blame the pitch because it was miles better than the slurry pit they played in against Doncaster. And you can't really, although I know several have, blame the referee for the loss.
Simon Harding may not have had the most aesthetically pleasing afternoon with the whistle, but he was not the sole reason the Pirates crumbled. They just looked tired, flat and short of ideas at that crucial stage of the game after going 17 points clear. It needed ten minutes of solidity and maybe another score to close out the game. What the Scottish were given was an open invitation to do whatever they wanted whenever they felt like it. They did not need to be asked twice.
Now we must trek north to Kingston Park on Saturday and a huge challenge against top of the table Newcastle Falcons.
They continue to beat all-comers without setting the world on fire while they plod a steady path back to the Premiership. They are not unbeatable and I hope the Pirates play with that attitude.
It was the end of November when the Pirates last played a Championship match in anything other than mud and rain so maybe a dry night and a decent pitch will inspire them.
Defeat will not be the end of the world, but a win at the Falcons will send huge shockwaves all around this fascinating league.
– Dick Straughan