Round-up: Bristol wounded after loss of Shield

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The Independent Online

Bristol, whose hopes of returning to the Premiership are not so much on the back burner as all but extinguished, suffered a double blow when their reign as Powergen Challenge Shield holders ended with a 16-9 semi-final defeat away to Plymouth Albion.

Bristol, whose hopes of returning to the Premiership are not so much on the back burner as all but extinguished, suffered a double blow when their reign as Powergen Challenge Shield holders ended with a 16-9 semi-final defeat away to Plymouth Albion.

All the Shoguns had to show for their efforts yesterday were three Danny Gray penalties, while Martin Schusterman claimed the game's only try and James Pritchard landed a conversion and three penalties for Plymouth.

Bristol's day took a further turn for the worse when Exe-ter extended their lead over them at the top of National League One to eight points with a 41-15 thrashing of visitors Otley. Tony Yapp contributed 21 points, including two of the Chiefs' six tries.

Plymouth Albion will contest the Challenge Shield final at Twickenham on 16 April with Bedford, who won 15-7 away to Pertemps Bees thanks to Leigh Hinton slotting five penalties. Hese Fakatou went over for the Bees.

London Irish must overcome semi-final opponents Leeds at Headingley today if they are to keep alive their prospects of a second Powergen Cup triumph in three years. However, victory over the Exiles for the third time this season would not only qualify the Yorkshire club for their first Cup final at Twickenham, also on 16 April, but it could also arrest their alarming recent slump to the bottom of the Premiership.

Leeds's director of rugby, Phil Davies, recalls Mike Shelley and Mark Regan to the front row and pairs up Scots Mark McMillan and Gordon Ross at half-back. London Irish welcome back their World Cup-winning centre Mike Catt, who has signed a year-long extension to his contract, wing Delon Arm-itage, hooker Robbie Russell and No 8 Roland Reid.

In today's other semi-final at Kingsholm, Gloucester look set to name the former French international hooker Olivier Azam on the bench for the first time since he suffered a shoulder injury last October. Visitors Bath are likely to start with their former Wales hooker Jonathan Humphreys as a replacement following his recovery from a heel injury, so the England lock Steve Borthwick will captain the side.

The Ireland flanker Simon Easterby, 29, has signed a new contract with Llanelli Scarlets which will keep him at Stradey Park until 2008. Edinburgh have signed the former All Blacks prop David Hewett, 33, on a two-year contract from Canterbury Crusaders.

New South Wales Waratahs have a one-point lead in the Super 12 table after beating Natal Sharks 36-13 in Durban. In Johannesburg, Wellington Hurricane breezed to third with a 45-32 win over the Cats.

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