With seemingly big games to come over the next couple of weeks in both National One and Two, victories could carry an extra significance for those aiming to move away from danger. (Photo Credit: Mick Craig)

National One

To copy and paste bits of our preview from last week wouldn’t be right given two of the seven scheduled matches in National One did beat the freeze, but what wouldn’t need much tweaking is how finely the poised the scrap is at the wrong end of the table.

Despite being in action in Round 16, Taunton Titans couldn’t add to their survival bid following their defeat to Birmingham Moseley so it’s as you were in terms of positions and points totals in the bottom half.

And this is why Sale FC’s visit to Blackheath on Saturday is the next standout fixture that could once again change the dynamic towards the foot of the standings.

Currently propping up the division are Sale and Jonathan Keep’s side remain five points from safety. Four victories from their last seven games has certainly made their passage to safety much more achievable but with just one success on the road all season, coming away from the capital with a victory will be easier said than done.

As for the hosts, there may well have been some frustration inside the walls of Well Hall two weeks ago. After collecting a superb victory on their travels against Sedgley Park at the start of the month, ‘Club’ were beaten by Leicester Lions – one of the sides in the relegation places – in their last home game so James Shanahan’s troops will be keen to produce a strong response in Round 17.

Blackheath do have a satisfactory cushion between themselves and the bottom three (10 points) but a defeat to Sale could drag them back towards the epicentre of the relegation battle ahead of some important fixtures to come.

Like Sale, Leicester Lions and Taunton will be looking to jump out of the danger zone on Saturday. The Midlands club visit Richmond (7th) aiming to secure a third win on the bounce while the Titans have a difficult assignment away at new league leaders Rams RFC.

Seb Reynolds’ men moved one point clear at the summit following a dramatic 21-17 win over Rosslyn Park in Round 16 so Chinnor (2nd) will be keen to wrestle back top spot with Nick Easter’s side going to old foes Cinderford (10th).

Just on Cinderford, as things stand, they are five points clear of the bottom three so success over the title challengers would be a huge boost to Paul Morris’ charges and the same could be said for Bishop’s Stortford (11th) as a positive result against Birmingham Moseley could be very timely indeed.

Meanwhile in Round 17, Plymouth Albion (3rd) welcome Darlington Mowden Park and Rosslyn Park go to Sedgley Park.

National Two North

From a neutral perspective, it could be a belter of a weekend in National Two North. In fact, it could be a fascinating couple of Saturdays towards the foot of the division beginning with Round 17 as four of the bottom five face off.

Let’s start with Hull Ionians’ meeting with Preston Grasshoppers. The I’s are currently in one of the relegation places and ahead of their trip to Lancashire, they have lost their last eight matches. However, they are level on points with Billingham (who we’ll come on to in a second) who sit just above the dreaded dotted line.

Next, Preston. Alex Keay’s troops are 10th in the standings and seven points clear of the drop zone as they aim for their first victory of the campaign at Lightfoot Green this weekend. Twenty-one of the 29 points Hoppers have accumulated this season have come on the road but with a narrow loss against Sheffield in their last home outing, surely a maiden win on their own turf is just around the corner?

The second part of this intriguing Saturday takes place in the North-East with Otley visiting Billingham.

In terms of Otley (11th), they are one place and one point behind the aforementioned Preston having lost four of their last five matches. However, the men from Cross Green do have a game in hand over their rivals so victory in Round 17 could seriously boost their chances of moving away from any relegation trouble.

As for Billingham, they were the only side in the bottom five who were in action last week but Pete Evans’s boys departed Abbeydale Park empty-handed meaning they are still on the cusp of the bottom two and without a victory since they beat Otley 12-10 in the reverse fixture back in September.

So seven points separate the four sides we have just mentioned and over the next few weeks, there are some huge fixtures for the quartet:

Hull Ionians (13th): Preston Grasshoppers (A), Sheffield Tigers (H), Billingham (H)

Billingham (12th): Otley (H), Wharfedale (A), Hull Ionians (A)

Otley: (11th): Billingham (A), Huddersfield – who sit bottom – (H)

Preston: (10th): Hull Ionians (H)

It isn’t quite the time for heroes just yet, but some big performances over the next few weeks could be pivotal.

As highlighted above, Huddersfield currently prop up the table and while their rivals battle it out, their own pursuit of safety resumes this weekend with the daunting prospect of taking on unbeaten league leaders Leeds Tykes away from home.

Pete Seabourne’s men have won all 15 of their matches this term and will be favourites, on paper, to add to their remarkable run while second-placed Rotherham Titans – who sit six points behind the Tykes – will be looking to keep the table-toppers in their vision when they entertain a  Tynedale side who have picked up five victories from their last six games.

Elsewhere, Sheffield (3rd) will be targeting a ninth win on the spin but that is easier said than done against fifth-placed Wharfedale while Fylde go to Lymm and Sheffield Tigers host Hull.

National Two East

Similar to the teams we focused on in National Two North, Guernsey Raiders and Wimbledon may also be circling one or two of their next games and labelling them as ‘season-defining’. Ok, that might be a tad dramatic but given the reaction of Guernsey boss Jordan Reynolds to his side’s recent victory over Tonbridge Juddians, maybe I could be right for once.

Reynolds described the Raiders’ first home success since the start of October as “pretty huge for our season” and another win on the island this weekend could also fall under that category.

As things stand, Guernsey are six points clear of the relegation zone with a game in hand while Wimbledon lifted themselves out of the bottom two last Saturday.

The Dons raced out of the blocks against Canterbury and their fast start did earn them a try bonus which was enough to move them up to 12th in the table. Considering they did have a 14-point lead at one stage, Collin Osborne’s side would have wanted more from their Round 16 clash but they have the chance to continue adding to their survival bid at Footes Lane.

Over the next couple of weeks, Guernsey also face Worthing (who sit second from bottom) while Wimbledon take on bottom of the table North Walsham so victory this Saturday could provide the platform for either side to begin moving away from danger.

Speaking of Worthing and North Walsham, they face Canterbury and Barnes (3rd), respectively, this weekend.

Barnes will be aiming to build on last week’s dramatic win over rivals Dorking after nudging themselves back into the thick of the promotion race. Jack Heald’s side came out on top in a magnificent contest while Dorking (2nd) missed the chance to go top, so the Red and Whites will be looking for an instant response away at Westcombe Park.

Despite league leaders Esher not being in action in Round 16 due to postponements, Peter Winterbottom’s charges are still out in front. They have a one-point gap at the summit – with a game in hand to come – and this weekend, they are eyeing up a 10th straight win away at Old Albanian.

Bury St Edmunds (4th) will also be looking to stretch their own unbeaten sequence to 11 matches when they face Tonbridge Juddians (6th), who coincidentally, were the last team to defeat Jacob Ford’s side back in Round Five while elsewhere, Henley Hawks take on Sevenoaks.

National Two West

A showdown between second and third is our pick of Round 17 in National Two West as Dings Crusaders welcome third-placed Hinckely to Shaftesbury Park.

As things stand, Dings sit six points behind table-toppers Luctonians after stretching their unbeaten run to 11 matches following last week’s hard-fought away win at Hornets. Their failure to collect all five points from their visit to Weston-super-Mare might have been disappointing at the time, but the sequence of results Stean Williams’ side have stitched together has been superb and it keeps them firmly in the promotion picture heading into the final weekend of January.

As for Hinckley, they will be out to derail Dings’ fabulous form and they certainly have previous to suggest they can pull it off. Having already beaten league leaders Luctonians – who visit Loughborough Students this weekend – away from home, they have also won their last four on the road which is also part of their own eight-game unbeaten streak. More significantly though, is the fact Chris Campbell’s troops were the last side to defeat Dings way back in September.

Below the bottom three, Clifton (4th) entertain Chester while fifth-placed Camborne host Hornets and Redruth go to Bournville.

Newport (Salop) and Dudley Kingswinford could exploit any slip-ups from the aforementioned Bournville and Hornets when the bottom two meet at Forton Road. Both sides know a victory may reignite their survival hopes while defeat could be a hammer blow to their chances of staying in National League Rugby.

Meanwhile, Exeter University meet Old Redcliffians.

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