Rugby Union: West head south

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The Independent Online
West Hartlepool can prepare for Second Division rugby next season following yesterday's 57-17 home defeat by Northampton. After conceding nine tries, two of them from Gregor Townsend, only a mathematical freak will save the Durham side from relegation.

London Irish in effect confirmed their place in the end-of-season play- offs with a 38-26 victory at Bristol, who are also destined to play off for their League One future. The Exiles trailed 26-18 after an hour before David Humphreys sparked the recovery with two late tries.

In the play-offs, Bristol and London Irish look likely to meet Coventry, 33-18 winners over neighbours Moseley, and Bedford, who surprisingly went down 28-14 at home to London Scottish. Newcastle are set to claim the second automatic promotion spot from League Two after their 45-21 success at Rotherham, but Richmond remain on course for the title thanks to their 55-25 demolition of Wakefield in which wings Jim Fallon and Spencer Brown ran in five tries between them.

Pontypridd have a four-point lead in the Welsh First Division after winning 47-7 at Ebbw Vale while second-placed Swansea, whose coaching director Mike Ruddock takes charge of Leinster and Ireland A next season, slipped up 31-24 at relegated Newbridge. Treorchy are also down after losing 55-25 at home to Llanelli, Wayne Proctor claiming a hat-trick of tries. Caerphilly's survival prospects all but disappeared in their 49- 15 loss at Bridgend, whose wing Paul Jones broke a leg. Dunvant slid further into danger after a 43-19 setback at Cardiff, who meet Swansea in the Swalec Cup final on Saturday.

Unbeaten Auckland hammered visitors Gauteng 63-22 to regain the lead in the Super 12 table, but the Springbok lock Kobus Wiese was carried off with a neck injury. Queensland beat New South Wales 26-16 in Sydney, Northern Transvaal won 34-27 against Waikato in Pretoria and Canterbury drew 26-26 with Natal in Christ-church despite having prop Stu Loe sent off. South Africa will visit France for two Tests next season - in Lyons on 15 November and in Paris a week later.

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