Teams towards the top of National One and National Two East go head-to-head while in National Two North and National Two West, all eyes are on the wrong end of the respective divisions. Photo Credit: (Chris Farrow)

National One

Sale FC entered Round 12 on the back of five consecutive victories in National One, but stretching their winning run to six matches has seen “The Dogs” breathe new life into their campaign. Last Saturday’s 27-24 triumph over league leaders Rams RFC not only ended the 100 per cent record of the table-toppers, but it also means Jonathan Keep’s side are now just five points from the summit at the midway point of the season.

After taking the title race to the penultimate game of the 2021-22 campaign, the North West outfit would give their promotion ambitions for this term a real boost if they can get the better of fourth-placed Rosslyn Park this weekend. Just two victories in five fixtures between the middle of October and the end of last month – which included defeats against Rams and Cambridge (3rd) – left Kieran Power’s troops clinging on to the leading pack but Sale’s success at Old Bath Road last week, combined with Park’s thumping 52-0 win against Taunton Titans, means they are now nine points off the top.

In this corresponding fixture last season, Sale produced a quite remarkable turnaround in the final 15 minutes to claim a dramatic 21-17 victory. The visitors will be hoping to avoid a repeat of that this time around as both clubs target pole position once again.

Rams¬†will be eager to dust themselves down and respond immediately in Round 13 but it won’t be easy for Seb Reynolds’ charges. They have to travel to Cinderford (5th) on Saturday and the Berkshire club lost 38-17 on their last visit to Dockham Road.¬†Cambridge¬†will also be looking to return to winning ways at the first time of asking, especially as all of their rivals face one another this weekend.

They host bottom-of-the-table Hull¬†and just above the Yorkshire side in the relegation zone are¬†Esher. They entertain Darlington Mowden Park in Round 13 while Leeds Tykes – who are now three points from safety take the trip to Plymouth Albion.¬†Also across the division,¬†Taunton Titans¬†will be looking to collect some crucial points when they welcome Birmingham Moseley¬†to Veritas Park while¬†Bishop’s Stortford’s¬†game with¬†Chinnor¬†has been postponed due to a frozen pitch.

National Two North

With Christmas just around the corner, both Harrogate¬†and¬†Blaydon¬†would love to be above the relegation zone by the time Santa comes down the chimney. For National Two North’s bottom two, the situation is far from bleak but as the first half of the season draws to a close, a win this weekend would do their hopes of digging themselves out of danger the power of good.

The two clubs meet at Rudding Lane with Harrogate currently five points adrift of safety. Martyn Wood’s side were deducted five points earlier in the season but over the last two months, the Yorkshire outfit have displayed immense fight and character. Their knack for picking up bonus points – as well as victories over Huddersfield and Preston Grasshoppers – has kept them in touch with the teams ahead and Blaydon can relate to this.

The men from Crowtrees were also penalised five points but they have picked up points in four of their last five games to leave them eight points from safety. Both sides will know this Round 13 clash is winnable and it presents a huge window of opportunity.

Huddersfield¬†are the club Harrogate and Blaydon are trying to catch but their superb 38-14 victory over Tynedale last time out has relieved the pressure valve on Gareth Lewis’ men. This weekend, they go to Sheffield¬†looking to build on their recent upturn in form while Preston Grasshoppers¬†– who are six points clear of the drop – will be targeting a welcome win against¬†Rotherham Titans.

At the top, league leaders Sedgley Park will be aiming to complete the first half of the campaign with their unbeaten record still intact as they eye a 13th successive victory when they go to Sheffield Tigers while Fylde (2nd) Рwho are two points off the summit Рface a tricky trip to fourth-placed Otley. Elsewhere, Chester are up against Wharfedale while Otley v Hull Ionians is off.

National Two East

Blackheath’s quest to make an immediate return to National One was strengthened in Round 12 following a victory over fellow top spot contenders Barnes. A usual suspect in the form of Jake Lloyd was on hand to provide a hat-trick as ‘Club’ widened the gap at the summit to six points.

Considering James Shanahan’s boys had already tasted defeat against promotion candidates Old Albanain and Tonbridge Juddians, last week’s win could be an important one come the end of the season. However, there is plenty more rugby to be played and Worthing Raiders (4th)¬†may look to take inspiration from the aforementioned OAs and TJs as they aim to create another twist at the top. The Sussex club are eight points behind Blackheath, and three wins from their last four matches suggests they are more than capable of extending their positive form.

If Worthing were to be successful, that could benefit Old Albanian (2nd) and Barnes (5th). These two sides meet in the capital in Round 13 and both clubs have been flirting with top spot throughout the first half of this campaign. Third-placed Dorking also fall under this category and they will be keen to bounce back from their defeat against Tonbridge Juddians when they host Westcliff this weekend.
Down towards the bottom and¬†North Walsham¬†will be eager to build on last Saturday’s excellent 42-27 victory over Sevenoaks, which has sparked the Norfolk club’s campaign into life. James Knight’s side are now just three points from safety and may fancy their chances of potentially moving out of the bottom two when they visit a Rochford Hundred¬†outfit who are only six points clear of the drop.
Sandwiched between the pair are Canterbury who entertain Henley Hawks on Saturday while elsewhere, Tonbridge Juddians face Sevenoaks and Bury St Edmunds take on Guernsey Raiders.
National Two West
With Hornets and Bournville, two of the teams directly above Stourbridge, playing one another this weekend, the Midlands club will feel their clash against fellow relegation rivals Barnstaple provides them with a golden chance to potentially start moving away from danger.
Neil Mitchell’s men currently prop up the division but are only three points behind Saturday’s visitors. The mood in the Barnstaple camp would have been a joyous one last weekend as an enthralling 36-33 success against Loughborough Students lifted the Chiefs out of the bottom two. The value of a victory against one of your rivals can never be underestimated so both clubs will be keen to come out on top as their quest for safety continues.
Bringing it back to Bournville and Hornets, just six points separates the bottom four sides in the division so claiming victory in this fixture is equally as important. Meanwhile, Newport (Salop)¬†will be looking to take advantage of all of their nearest rivals clashing, but that is easier said than done as Bob Adams’ troops come up against promotion challengers¬†Dings Crusaders¬†in Round 13.
Speaking of the race for top spot in National Two West, league leaders Leicester Lions are back in action this weekend when they visit Exeter University but due to their fixture postponement last week, it has allowed Clifton (2nd) and Hinckley (3rd) to close in.
The Lavender and Blacks entertain Luctonians this weekend whilst the Midlands outfit face Old Redcliffians on their own patch. Also across the division, Redruth travel to Loughborough Students.