While the world’s best are set to do battle in France, there is still plenty of exciting action to get stuck into across National League Rugby as near neighbours renew their rivalries. (Photo Credit: Mike Craig)

National One

National One’s action for Round Two kicks off under the Friday night lights at Old Bath Road as rivals Rams RFC host Chinnor. Both sides began the new campaign with maximums as Seb Reynolds’ troops defeated Birmingham Moseley whilst Nick Easter’s Chinnor saw off Darlington Mowden Park.

Once again, this fixture will be live-streamed via NextGenXV with Rams looking to make it four victories in a row on their own patch against Chinnor but given the Black and Whites have only lost one of their last eight games (a run stretching back to February), this might be the closest derby day clash for some while.

Another standout fixture on a weekend of standout fixtures sees Rosslyn Park take the three-mile trip to The Atheltic Ground to face old foes Richmond. Kieran Power’s men began the season with a 39-36 success over Plymouth Albion and Saturday’s meeting between Park and Richmond will be the first since March 2020 when both sides were going for the National One title before the Covid-19 pandemic halted proceedings.

Richmond will be looking to respond after they saw a lead slip through their fingers against newly-promoted Sedgley Park on the opening day. Warren Seals’ last-gasp penalty completed a remarkable fightback from The Tigers, who are on the road this weekend when they travel to Birmingham Moseley.

Fellow newcomers Leicester Lions and Blackheath also began life in the third tier with victories, and both clubs will be eager to build on their respective triumphs in Round Two. The Lions – who stunned possible title hopefuls Sale FC on their debut in National One – travel to Cinderford while ‘Club’ welcome Bishop’s Stortford to Well Hall.

Elsewhere, Plymouth Albion entertain Taunton Titans in the West Country derby while Sale FC play host to Darlington Mowden Park.

National Two North

The last time Hull Ionians met city rivals Hull was back in April 2022, and it is a date the latter will never forget as a 31-29 victory saw them create history as they clinched promotion to National One.

So for a season at least, the bragging rights have belonged to those at Chanterlands Avenue but now the I’s may want to put the record straight when they clash at Brantingham Park this Saturday. Graham Steadman’s boys finished third last term and began this campaign with a hard-fought win over Huddersfield, and the same can be said of recently relegated Hull as they edged past Otley to secure victory.

Early pre-season predictions may suggest these two neighbours will be challenging for promotion this term so how will this latest encounter play out?

Yorkshire counterparts Rotherham Titans may also fancy their chances of being in the frame for promotion this year. Martin Jenkinson’s side have been at this level for three seasons (including this current term) and perhaps they gave National Two North followers an inkling of what is to come after racking up a half-century of points on the opening day against Billingham. This weekend, they visit The Avenue to face a Wharfedale side, who last Saturday, left it late to earn a narrow 22-21 victory over new boys Lymm.

Preston Grasshoppers and Leeds Tykes were the other two sides to collect bonus-point wins in Round One and the Lancashire club host fierce rivals Fylde this weekend whilst the Tykes will be embroiled in another all-white rose affair when they host Otley.

Also in National Two North, Sheffield Tigers will be keen to use last week’s 26-26 draw with the aforementioned Fylde as a platform to work from when Steel City neighbours Sheffield take the 2.3 mile trip to Dore Moor while elsewhere, the latest North-East derby sees newly-promoted Billingham face Tynedale and Lymm take on Huddersfield at Crouchley Lane.

National Two East

Two teams that finished third and fourth respectively last season – and also impressively got off the mark last week – meet in Round Two. After possible promotion rivals Barnes and Esher did battle on the opening day, it is now the turn of Dorking and Worthing Raiders.

Despite Dorking running in eight tries to defeat Wimbledon in Round One, Director of Rugby Armand Roux admitted his side ‘still have a few bits to go and work on’ whilst also realising the importance of getting off to a solid start.

As for Worthing, they notched seven tries in their 45-7 success away at North Walsham and with just three points separating the Raiders and Dorking in 2022-23, this is a hard one to call in Surrey.

As a side note, Dorking won both meetings between the teams last term, including a 44-24 win in this corresponding fixture almost exactly a year ago.

Henley Hawks, Tonbridge Juddians and Barnes also opened their accounts for 2023-24 with bonus-point triumphs and the trio will be out to make it two from two this Saturday. The Hawks – who scored one of the tries of Round One – visit Old Albanian, TJs go to Canterbury – who are involved in their second Kent derby in as many weeks – while Barnes host newly-promoted Wimbledon.

Elsewhere, Sevenoaks make the trip to Guernsey Raiders, Bury St Edmunds are back at home to face North Walsham and Esher will be aiming to bounce back away at Westcombe Park.

National Two West

Like in National One, Round Two’s doors in National Two West are flung open on Friday night with a corker of a derby day fixture. Dings Crusaders and Clifton finished second and third respectively last term and given that both started this season with victories, this first all-Bristol encounter of 2023-24 could hold great significance by the time April comes around.

Dings had to battle hard to overcome the intriguing and newly promoted Camborne in Round One while it wasn’t a stroll in the park for Clifton against Newport (Salop) but both clubs arrive at Shaftesbury Park with a spring in their step.

Last season, the spoils went to the Crusaders on both occasions so will Clifton be able to exact their revenge under the Friday night lights?

Luctonians were also towards the right end of the table with Dings and Clifton last term and Ryan Watkins’ men picked up from where they left off by securing a maximum last weekend. The prolific Ben Link was at it again as his hat-trick helped Lucs defeat Dudley Kingswinford and in Round Two, they welcome Old Redcliffians to Mortimer Park.

Whilst Link was doing his thing, fellow hooker Dale Bowyer was also sniffing out the try line for fun for Hinckley as Chris Campbell’s men got the better of Bournville last week. Bowyer scored on five occasions and he and his teammates will be looking to make it two bonus-point wins from two when they travel to Loughborough Students while Exeter University and Hornets will be targeting the same outcome when they meet in Devon.

Also in Round Two, we are expecting one of the biggest attendances of the weekend when local rivals Redruth take the six-mile trip to Crane Park to face Camborne. A crowd in excess of 2,000 people is expected down in Cornwall for the first league meeting between the clubs for 32 years, with the visitors aiming to build on last week’s win over Old Redcliffians while Camborne will be looking to open their account.

Meanwhile, Chester’s first away outing in National Two West sees them travel to Newport (Salop) while it is another Midlands derby for Dudley Kingswinford as the newly-promoted outfit go to Bournville.

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