Rotherham's promotion 'set to be confirmed in next 72 hours'

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The Independent Online

Rotherham, champions of National League One for the second successive season and quite the most contentious outfit in English rugby, are confident of having their promotion confirmed over the next 72 hours, thereby ending a year-long saga featuring outright rejection, a change of stadium, allegations of financial chicanery, an ongoing independent investigation into the club's accounts, umpteen auditors' reports, numerous boardroom rows and, on Thursday night, a nasty public spat between the blazered brigade from Twickenham and the power-suited grandees of the Premiership.

Rotherham, champions of National League One for the second successive season and quite the most contentious outfit in English rugby, are confident of having their promotion confirmed over the next 72 hours, thereby ending a year-long saga featuring outright rejection, a change of stadium, allegations of financial chicanery, an ongoing independent investigation into the club's accounts, umpteen auditors' reports, numerous boardroom rows and, on Thursday night, a nasty public spat between the blazered brigade from Twickenham and the power-suited grandees of the Premiership.

If, as expected, the Yorkshiremen are permitted to take their seat at the top table, one burning issue will finally have been doused. Exasperatingly, another burning issue – relegation, or the lack of it – will still be ablaze when the final whistle is blown on the regular season at tea-time today. Even if Bath, three points adrift at the foot of the table but still hopeful of avoiding the ignominy of finishing 12th out of 12, fail to beat Newcastle, or results in Reading and Watford go against them, their descent into the national leagues will be far from automatic.

A highly convenient merger with Bristol remains the most likely outcome of a catastrophic few months for both West Country clubs, either of whom could finish bottom of the heap. There again, Bristol could qualify for the Zurich Wildcard play-offs – a complicated affair designed to identify the last of the English qualifiers for next season's Heineken Cup while inflicting a migraine on anyone foolhardy enough to study the rules – by registering a four-try victory over London Irish at the Madejski Stadium. That's the attractive thing about rugby: simplicity and order.

Put simply, or as simply as the circumstances allow, four clubs are at risk: Bath, London Irish, Bristol and Saracens. As no one, least of all those responsible for regulating the sport, knows what is happening off the pitch, those who are paid to perform on it must go to the well one last time and draw deep from dwindling reserves.

"In a weird way, I'm excited about this game," said Mike Tindall, the Bath centre, as he contemplated the threat to his livelihood posed by Newcastle. "Playing for your survival is the biggest challenge you can get, so there is no point being down about it. We need to produce a team performance, a performance good enough to destroy the opposition."

Newcastle, denied the services of Mark Andrews and Stuart Grimes in the second row but very much in the pink, are chasing a wildcard spot and will therefore be competitive. The London Irish-Bristol game will be angst-ridden, for a Bath victory would leave the losers badly exposed. Saracens, close to survival but not quite close enough for comfort, also face a testing afternoon, for Sale must win at Vicarage Road to guarantee a top three finish and a shot at a place in the grand final at Twickenham in three weeks.

The last-day fixture list has also done the business in mid-table, where Northampton and Leeds meet at Franklin's Gardens in a match that will almost certainly decide fourth place and automatic Heineken Cup entry. The Midlanders cannot call on the buccaneering expertise of their captain, Budge Pountney, who has a neck injury. Leeds include two Premiership ever-presents in Braam van Straaten and Tom Palmer. If they win, the final whistle will signal the end of Van Straaten's enormously productive sojourn in the Ridings. The former Springbok has agreed terms with Sale for next season.

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