With the absence of the Six Nations, the Gallagher Premiership and even a full programme in the Championship, the National Leagues are where you can get your rugby fix this weekend. (Photo Credit: Phillipa Hilton/Canterbury Rugby Club)

National One

The anticipation always begins to build at this stage of a season. At the top and bottom of National One, things are finely poised and like anything in life, we cannot predict what is to come but what we can envisage is excitement and drama by the bucketload.

Having said that, perhaps the word ‘drama’ is something which Chinnor and Blackheath (9th) would rather avoid between now and the end of April.

In terms of Chinnor, promotion and a place in the Championship is becoming more and more tangible. Last week, the National One table-toppers stretched their winning run to nine matches and currently hold a four-point lead at the summit with the ‘run-in’ rapidly coming into view. However, Nick Easter’s troops will know they cannot fully engage in ‘title talk’  just yet with eight games in the season to go and some big fixtures still to come in their calendar.

But before looking at trips to Plymouth Albion (4th) and Birmingham Moseley (3th) for example, their latest away assignment sees them travel into London to face Blackheath.

James Shanahan’s men may well have increased the morale at Well Hall this week as they halted a three-match losing run in Round 18. An excellent victory at Cinderford moved ‘Club’ nine points clear of the bottom two and that very welcome win can potentially be a catalyst for Blackheath to upset the odds and earn their first home success since November.

Like Chinnor, Rams RFC (2nd) will be reluctant to get caught up in the emotion of a National One promotion battle with two months of the season remaining. Seb Reynolds’ side know all about handling this type of pressure after last year’s phenomenal title race and the Berkshire club seem to be settling into their groove once again.

Since losing to Chinnor just before Christmas, Rams have responded with four straight wins and host Leicester Lions (11th) this weekend aiming to keep the league leaders firmly in their sights.

As for the fight for survival, Bishop’s Stortford fell to the foot of the division last week following a sixth successive defeat. Despite a much-improved display against Rams, Marcus Cattell’s side are now two points from safety and will be searching for their first win since the beginning of December when they host Sedgley Park (7th) on Saturday.

Second from bottom Taunton Titans burst into life last week and reignited their hopes of avoiding the drop following their seven-try win over the aforementioned Sedgley Park. The key for Tony Yapp’s side is to now back up that result and this weekend they visit Rosslyn Park (6th) while Cinderford – who are one place and one point above the drop zone – go to Plymouth Albion, with the hosts itching to end a run of three successive defeats.

Elsewhere, a resurgent Sale FC (10th) go to Richmond (8th) while two in-form sides meet in the Midlands with Birmingham Moseley (3rd) entertaining fifth-placed Darlington Mowden Park.

National Two North

There might be some followers of National Two North who will want to skip to March 23rd.

March 23rd? Well, that is the date when the top two – Leeds Tykes and Rotherham Titans – meet at Clifton Lane which is increasingly looking like a title decider.

It is undoubtedly the standout fixture between now and the final month of the season but Rotherham know they have to keep doing what they are doing if that clash with Leeds Tykes is to become as significant as it is shaping up to be.

In any other campaign, the Titans would be firmly on course for promotion to National One but despite their record of: Played 17, Won 16, Lost 1, they are still hunting down Leeds, highlighting the unbelievable standards the pair have set.

A common theme as to why Rotherham have been able to keep pace with their relentless title rivals has been their character, and last week’s battling win away at Fylde confirmed to us that Gareth Lewis’ side won’t let the Leeds juggernaut sail off into the distance.

A sixth successive maximum leaves them 11 points off the top with a game in hand but a tricky hurdle awaits in Round 19. While Rotherham and Leeds have played brilliant rugby this term, the same can be said for third-placed Sheffield. 

England Rugby’s January Team of the Month for levels three and four are currently unbeaten in 11 games and as they prepare to take the short trip across South Yorkshire, they do so having won their last 10 matches. Their last defeat did come against Rotherham back in October but with Anthony Posa’s side bang in form, they are more than capable of making life difficult for the Titans and denting their title aspirations.

Leeds Tykes will be keeping tabs on proceedings between the two sides directly below them, but the main focus for Pete Seabourne’s men is to continue their quite astonishing season. Just a few stats for you…

Across National League Rugby:

Longest winning streak: Leeds Tykes (18)

Most tries scored: Leeds Tykes (117)

Most away wins: Leeds Tykes (9)

Most away points scored: Leeds Tykes (403)

The Tykes have won all 18 of their matches and have dropped just one point all season as they head to Preston Grasshoppers (10th) this weekend.

Towards the foot of National Two North, bottom-of-the-table Huddersfield go to Sheffield Tigers while Billingham and Hull Ionians also continue their fight to stay in the fourth tier. Billingham – who are one point from safety as things stand – welcome Hull (8th) to the North-East while The I’s visit fourth-placed Wharfedale.

Lymm – who are eight points clear of danger – will be keen to halt a four-match losing run when they host Otley (9th) while elsewhere, Fylde go to Tynedale.

National Two East

A hatful of tries and some scintillating rugby have become a staple of Esher’s current form and a stunning sequence of 11 straight wins has left them in the driving seat for an immediate return to National One.

Since their last defeat against Bury St Edmunds back in Round Six, Peter Winterbottom’s men have scored an average of seven tries per game and have collected all five points on 10 occasions. The only team to restrict the league leaders to less than five tries in a match as well as deny the EEEs a bonus point were Sevenoaks back in November.

As things stand, Esher sit five points clear with a game in hand but this weekend’s visit to Henley Hawks (6th) could really test their winning streak. While the hosts are experiencing some mixed form, they have lost only one of their last 12 games at home [v Old Albanian in December] and did beat the current National Two East table-toppers the last time they met at Dry Leas back in October 2021.

That season, Esher went on to lift the National Two South title so with the Hawks still boasting a strong home record, can they halt the momentum of the promotion chasers once again?

Second-placed Barnes and Dorking (3rd) will hope that is the case with both clubs level on points and still aiming to reel Esher in. Barnes – who have won six of their last seven games – visit Canterbury (7th) while Dorking make the trip to an in-form Guernsey Raiders (10th) who have won their last four matches.

At the other end of the standings, this week may have felt like a long one for Wimbledon (13th) who suffered a last-gasp defeat to Old Albanian in Round 18 but Collin Osborne’s boys are, as it stands, in a safety position despite sitting in the bottom two.

Following the demise of Jersey Reds from the Championship, the knock-on effect means just five teams will be going down from National Two this season: The clubs in 14th position in the three National Two leagues, as well as the two clubs in 13th position with the worst playing records in the three National Two leagues, will be relegated.

Right now, Wimbledon have a better playing record than 13th-placed Billingham in National Two North and 13th-placed Newport (Salop) in National Two West meaning if the season finished today, they would be safe but all the Dons will be focused on is lifting themselves out of the danger zone rather than relying on the fortunes of others.

This weekend, they visit Bury St Edmunds (4th) while rivals Worthing – who sit one place and four points above Wimbledon – go to Old Albanian (9th). 

Elsewhere, bottom-of-the-table North Walsham are up against Westcombe Park (11th) and Tonbridge Juddians face Sevenoaks in the Kent derby.

National Two West

The most important result in sport is usually always the next one and that mentality is perhaps symbolic of the way Dings Crusaders (2nd) have gone about their business. After finishing in second spot last term, Stean Williams’ side began this season with three defeats from their first five games leading to question marks around whether the Bristol-based outfit could build on 2022-23’s excellent campaign.

However, they quickly and emphatically put any doubts to bed and they enter Round 19 on a 13-match unbeaten run and they sit six points behind leaders Luctonians.

The next two weeks, though, do seem crucial in terms of which way Dings’ season will go. They close out this month with a possible title decider against Luctonains away from home but first, they welcome near neighbours Old Redcliffians (8th) to Shaftesbury Park.

Old Reds have been ticking along nicely with a major factor in that being their home form. Six of their last seven league wins have come at Scotland Lane which means their only success on the road in that period was against Chester back in November.

Craig Owen’s side are winless in their last three away games but even though they were at home, they did beat title-chasing Luctonians earlier in the campaign and lost narrowly to Dings 32-29 (following a last-minute Oliver Milner penalty) so Old Reds certainly have it in their locker to upset the applecart on Saturday.

If Old Redcliffians were to prevail in this all-Bristol affair, Luctonians could go into next week’s clash against Dings with a healthy cushion if they can get the better of relegation-threatened Newport (Salop) (13th) in Shropshire.

Newport may well be 16 points behind the closest team to them in the table [Bournville] but due to the format of relegation this year, they are only technically six points from safety as Wimbledon’s current points total [28] in National Two East is currently enough to stay at level four even if you finish in 13th position.

Bottom-of-the-table Dudley Kingswinford will also have the same mindset, with the Midlands club making the long trip to Camborne (6th) this weekend.

Elsewhere, it is fifth vs third with Hinckley visiting Clifton and Exeter University (4th) host Bournville (12th) while Redruth (7th) go to Loughborough Students (10th) in search of a fourth win in a row and Chester (9th) entertain Hornets (11th).

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