The top two in National Two North meet this Saturday as Sale FC take the trip to Hinckley with both sides competing for promotion to the third tier of English rugby.
Both clubs are level on points at the summit, but Sale sit in pole position by virtue of ‘Points Difference’ so there is really nothing between the two teams ahead of their clash at Leicester Road.
Watching from afar will be the likes of Sedgley Park, Stourbridge and Tynedale who will all be interested by the outcome following their respective fixtures over Macclesfield, Blaydon and Sheffield Tigers.
Meanwhile, Chester travel to Otley and bottom of the table Sheffield will be aiming to get their survival bid back on track when they host South Leicester. Elsewhere, rivals Wharfedale take on Chester and Luctonians entertain Huddersfield.
Hinckley v Sale FC
This season, every game involving teams vying for promotion in National Two North seems to be a ‘big match’, but this weekend that phrase most certainly applies to the fixture between Hinckley and Sale FC as the top two sides meet in the Midlands. Currently, Sale FC sit at the summit following a wonderful run of 11 straight victories and Director of Rugby Jonathan Keep told us that his side’s response to a slow start to the campaign has been brilliant.
— Sale Rugby Club (@SaleFC) January 20, 2018
After the heartbreak of losing in the play-off last term, there was a sense that Sale were suffering from a hangover after two defeats and a draw from their first seven matches, but they have recovered superbly and are in fine fettle heading into this game with Hinckley. The hosts on Saturday are level on points with Sale and are only in second place because the Manchester-based outfit have won more matches so Hinckley’s Director of Rugby George Chuter knows his side have to be ready if they are to beat ‘”the best team in the division.” Hinckley have lost at home on just one occasion this term and that occurred against Sedgley Park two weeks ago so they will be wanting to avoid a similar outcome as they aim to stay in the thick of this promotion race.
Macclesfield v Sedgley Park
Keeping close tabs on the outcome in the Midlands will be third placed Sedgley Park who take the short trip to Macclesfield this weekend. While the top two battle it out at Leicester Road, Sedge will be focused on getting their own job done as they look to keep on fighting for a promotion place. As things stand, Matt Bebbington’s side are going well having won seven of their last nine matches, which leaves them six points off second placed Hinckley and they also have a game in hand.
But, a fourth straight win to complete a perfect start to 2018 will not be straightforward for Sedge. In fact, Macclesfield are also looking to end January with a 100 per cent record following a remarkable turnaround in their fortunes. Since the appointment of Marshall Gadd on an interim basis, the Blues have won four straight matches which has seen them go from relegation candidates to comfortably sitting in mid-table. The Cheshire side have been superb in recent weeks and they now sit 11th in the standings and 12 points clear of the drop zone, but this will be Gadd’s toughest test since he took over the reins, but one Macc will no doubt be relishing.
Stourbridge v Blaydon
Stourbridge’s pursuit of a top two place suffered a minor setback last weekend as Neil Mitchell’s men suffered their first defeat in five matches as they slipped to a 24-12 loss at Chester. Stour fell to fourth in the table following the events of last Saturday, but the Midlands club remain firmly in the promotion picture as they welcome Blaydon to Stourton Park in Round 20. Stour are seven points off Hinckley with a game in hand but for them to capitalise on that, they can’t afford any more negative results.
The visitors are a similar boat, but defeats will hit Blaydon much harder. The northeast side are currently 13th in the division and having come down from National One last season, they are once again embroiled in a relegation scrap. Their postponement against Luctonians last weekend may have been a positive as the Crows had more time to recover from injuries, but with them being just one point clear of the drop, a fourth win of the season would be most welcome for Matt Thompson’s side.
Tynedale v Sheffield Tigers
Jamie Harrison delivered a knockout blow to Tynedale last weekend as his late try snatched victory for Sedgley Park at Corbridge. The 23-22 defeat would have been tough to take for the northeast outfit against one of their promotion rivals, but Tyne have the chance to respond in front of their own supporters when they host Sheffield Tigers. Scott Lawson, who this week received a call-up to the Scotland squad for the Six Nations, will know his side are still in the battle for a top two spot as Tyne are 10 points behind second placed Hinckley, with two games in hand.
At the age of 36, without a cap since 2014, Scott Lawson never gave up on a Scotland recall…
— BBC Sport Scotland (@BBCSportScot) January 23, 2018
However, their first hurdle to overcome is Sheffield Tigers who are just desperate for a win. They head north this weekend having lost their last eight matches which has seen a positive season slowly start to turn into a frustrating one for the Tigers. Their last victory came back in November against Wharfedale and a repeat of that triumph on the road would be a much-needed morale booster for the 10th placed side.
Sheffield v South Leicester
South Leicester’s patchy form continued last weekend following a defeat away at league leaders Sale FC, but the Midlands side remain sixth in the table despite their inconsistent results. Richie Williams and his coaching staff will be keen for South to gain some momentum, but just two wins from their last seven games highlights how tough it has been for the men from Welford Road to find a catalyst to reignite their positive campaign.
After finishing seventh last term, South are taking another step in right direction and they will be hoping to carry on their progression by claiming a victory at bottom of the table Sheffield this weekend. The Yorkshire outfit’s ambitions to beat the drop suffered a blow last Saturday as they were beaten by relegation rivals Wharfedale. It means Adam Byron’s side are now at the foot of this division, but they are only five points from safety. Sheffield are back at Abbeydale Road in Round 20 where three of their four victories have come this term so they will be hoping another home triumph can boost their survival chances once again.
Luctonians v Huddersfield
Huddersfield Head Coach Gareth Lewis side his side “must all learn lessons” following their narrow defeat against Otley last weekend. The men from Lockwood Park have lost two games on the bounce following their excellent victory over Tynedale at the start of the month, but Field will now be keen to return to winning ways as they look to continue their impressive season.
The Yorkshire outfit have been excellent since winning promotion from National Three last April and their seventh place position in the league table highlights this. However this weekend, they will have to wary of a Luctonians side who are fighting for survival this term. Ryan Watkins’ men picked up a much needed and well deserved victory against Chester in their last outing at Mortimer Park which leaves them on the cusp of safety. Having not been action last Saturday due to their postponement with Blaydon, the Lucts will be fresh and fired up as they aim for another home triumph which could see them move out of the bottom three.
Otley v Leicester Lions
It has not been a happy New Year for Leicester Lions so far. The Midlands club entered 2018 having lost just two games in seven matches, but since the turn of the year, Jack Heald’s men have struggled to recapture that sort of form and head into the final fixture of the month having lost their last three games. The Lions still sit in the top half of the table, but they will be eager to return to winning ways when they travel to Otley this weekend.
However, that is easier said than done as Otley come into this fixture as one of the form sides in the division. After being involved in a relegation battle, Peter Clegg’s men have begun distancing themselves from danger and five wins from their last seven matches has lifted them to 12th in the table and they are now 10 points clear of the drop. But, the men from Cross Green will know the job is far from done so another triumph to complete January would continue their progress.
Wharfedale v Chester
It was another classic Chester performance at Hare Lane last Saturday. After defeating title challengers Hinckley just before Christmas, another promotion candidate found life difficult in Cheshire as Stourbridge fell to a defeat in Round 19. Chester’s displays at home this year have been excellent which is reflected by the fact that seven of their nine wins have come on their own patch, but the ninth placed side will be keen to start translating those results into their away fixtures.
Fantastic performance lads👊🏉❤️🍺👍worthy winners on the day. Another massive game away at Wharfedale on Saturday but every faith you can do the business 🙌👏 https://t.co/waUAomQB8u
— Dave Maddocks (@MaddocksDave) January 22, 2018
They have the opportunity to do just that this weekend when they travel to Wharfedale, but the hosts will have other ideas. James Doherty’s side picked up a crucial win at the Avenue last weekend as they beat rivals Sheffield to move off the bottom of National Two North and they are now just four points from safety. Back to back home wins have boosted their chances of beating the drop and a trio of victories in front of their own supporters could leave them on the verge of climbing out of the relegation zone.