Battles towards the bottom headline Round 19
As we hit the final quarter of the season, teams who are looking over their shoulder – or who are in danger – will be keen to be on the winning side this weekend. (Photo Credit: Phillipa Hilton/Canterbury Rugby)
If Taunton Titans are to lift themselves away from danger, the next two weeks could be crucial for Tony Yapp’s side. After taking seven points from their last three games, the Somerset outfit currently find themselves just six points from safety heading into fixtures against Chinnor and Hull.
Following this week’s update regarding promotion and relegation from National One, as things stand, three teams will be relegated to National Two so if Taunton were to gain positive results from their upcoming couple of fixtures, they could move out of the drop zone. Their quest to accomplish this begins with a visit to Chinnor, who have won four of their past six games.
Last weekend, their character and spirit was on display against league leaders Rams RFC as the Black and Whites collected a bonus point from Old Bath Road but the hosts will be hoping to build on their resurgence as they sit nine points clear of Taunton heading into Round 19.
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Sandwiched in between Chinnor and the Titans are Esher – who have won three of their last four – but after losing to Taunton at the end of January, returning to winning ways won’t be easy when they entertain title-chasing Sale FC this weekend.
Over the last two weeks, Sale have had to watch on as both Rams and Cambridge (2nd) have picked up maximum points, and those results have changed the dynamic in this fascinating title race. Rams currently sit six points clear at the top ahead of a huge clash against fourth-placed Rosslyn Park while Cambridge face a tricky assignment away at Cinderford (5th) who have beaten both Rams and Sale FC at Dockham Road this term.
Elsewhere in the third tier, Plymouth Albion travel to bottom-of-the-table Hull, Bishop’s Stortford host a Leeds Tykes side who are currently eight points from safety and Birmingham Moseley go to Darlington Mowden Park with both teams aiming to distance themselves from any potential scrap for survival.
National Two North
Last weekend, Blaydon’s return to winning ways highlighted the fight that still remains amongst the ranks at Crowtrees. After shipping an average of 43.6 points across their five games in 2023 and scoring just 34 in total, Sam Stuart’s side looked like a rejuvenated outfit against North East rivals Tynedale as they secured just their second win of the campaign.
The result leaves them 13 points from safety and as they prepare to enter Round 19, they will be under no illusions as to how much work there is still left to do if they are to pull off a great escape. However, five of their last eight games are against sides who are currently in the bottom half and a victory over one of those teams – Huddersfield – this weekend will only boost their belief.
In terms of Field, they may sit 11th in the table but five wins from their last six games has seen them create a 17-point buffer between themselves and the bottom two. Their defeat to third-placed Otley last week won’t have dampened the spirits of Gareth Lewis’ men too much, so they will be hoping to continue on their upward trajectory on Saturday.
As for Blaydon’s relegation rivals Harrogate, they host Sheffield Tigers (9th) as they aim to bounce back at the first attempt following their loss to Wharfedale while Preston Grasshoppers – who took title-chasing Fylde to the wire last weekend – welcome an in-form Otley to Lightfoot Green.
Otley are currently on a 10-match winning streak but at the moment, no team across National League Rugby can rival National Two North table-toppers Sedgley Park. Scott Barrow’s troops have been victorious in all 17 of their games this season and with a one-point lead at the summit, they will be looking to stay in pole position when they visit Rotherham Titans this weekend. As for fellow promotion challengers Fylde, they take on Wharfedale at The Avenue.
Meanwhile, Hull Ionians face Sheffield and Chester entertain Tynedale at Hare Lane.
National Two East
Canterbury must be pleased with how 2023 has panned out for them so far and they will potentially come into this weekend feeling confident that they can continue their rise away from any relegation battle. Three wins from five games since the turn of the year is exactly the tonic Matt Corker’s side needed as they now sit 10 points clear of trouble.
Their only defeats in that sequence came against the division’s top two so they will be determined that stat remains unchanged following the visit of Sevenoaks. Adam Bowman’s charges are one place and five points behind Canterbury coming into this contest and they are on a run of just one win from their last six matches. However, that victory certainly boosted their survival chances as they were able to defeat table rivals Rochford Hundred. A similar outcome in this Kent derby would see Sevenoaks create a bigger gap between themselves and the bottom two.
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The aforementioned Rochford Hundred host Barnes (4th) in Round 19 while North Walsham – one the sides currently in the relegation places – entertain Tonbridge Juddians (8th).
At the right end of the standings, league leaders Blackheath have a 13-point cushion between themselves and their nearest challengers ahead of their trip to Guernsey Raiders. ‘Club’ will be targeting a ninth successive win while rivals Dorking (2nd) go to an in-form Bury St Edmunds side and Worthing Raiders – fresh from beating Dorking last weekend – travel to Old Albanian.
Elsewhere, Henley Hawks host bottom-of-the-table Westcliff at Dry Leas.
National Two West
Over the course of the last two ‘reserve weekends’ in National League Rugby, Old Redcliffans have been able to gain some ground in this fight towards the bottom of the table. An excellent 30-20 win away at Exeter University was their first triumph since the start of December and a solid showing against Hinckley in the first half last week suggests the Bristol outfit have more than enough in their locker to avoid being sucked into a relegation scrap.
They will be hoping to display their qualities on Saturday when they host Barnstaple. The Chiefs haven’t picked up any points from their last three matches so they remain three points above the drop zone as things stand. Rivals Bournville – who have the tough task of dealing with league leaders Leicester Lions in Round 19 – do have a game in hand over Barnstaple and in fact, those two clubs go head-to-head next week. However, the Devonshire outfit can’t look past this fixture with Old Redcliffians as they look to record a welcome win.
Two other sides who are towards the foot of the table – Newport (Salop) and Stourbridge – meet this weekend with the Shropshire club looking to build on their most recent win against Dings Crusaders.
In terms of the race for promotion, Clifton’s job of reeling in Leicester Lions begins with a trip to Hornets before the Lavender and Blacks take on their title rivals next weekend while elsewhere, its third vs fourth as Dings Crusaders take on Redruth, Hinckley face Exeter University and Luctonians host Loughborough Students.