Throughout the month, levels three and four have produced some compelling action and it ends with a blockbuster fixture between the only two unbeaten teams across National League Rugby. (Photo Credit: John Ashton)
Christmas is just around the corner and National One is the gift that keeps on giving. As late autumn prepares to turn to winter, the fight at the top of the third tier is beginning to heat up and two clubs steeped in history are in the mix. Plymouth Albion (3rd) are currently just three points off the summit but heading into last weekend, Ryan Lamb’s side were leading the way.
However, a defeat at Richmond saw them slip down the standings but within the walls of Brickfields, they will be targeting an instant reaction on Saturday as well as a fifth home success on the trot. The visitors to Devon are Birmingham Moseley (5th) who have quietly but efficiently gone about their business over the last month or so.
Adam Balding’s troops are the ‘form side’ in the league after stringing together a run of five successive victories, their latest a 19-17 win over Blackheath. Moseley were one of the clubs battling towards the wrong end of the table in 2022/23 but now find themselves just seven points off the top and four behind their hosts this weekend.
Who can strengthen their position in the table heading into December?
Out in front in National One are Rams RFC, who halted a three-match losing streak in Round 10 by securing a maximum against Cinderford. Seb Reynolds’ charges will be hoping their worst dip in form for almost seven years is now behind them when they travel to Blackheath this weekend.
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Following their 26-7 triumph over Bishop’s Stortford last time out, Chinnor moved back up to second place and now sit just two points behind Rams ahead of their meeting with Richmond who, of course, defeated Plymouth Albion a week ago.
Sedgley Park (4th) also feature in the leading party and travel to Cinderford where they will be targeting an eighth win of the campaign. In fact, all of the top five teams will be doing the same as they have identical records: Played 10, Won 7, Lost 3. Remember that gift that keeps on giving?
Taking a peek at the other end of the division, there is also a level of intrigue surrounding Leicester Lions’ (12th) clash with Bishop’s Stortford (11th).
Last time out, the Lions picked up an excellent 27-17 victory over Taunton Titans to move four points clear of bottom-of-the-table Sale FC, who entertain Rosslyn Park on Saturday. As for Stortford, just one win in five leaves them one place and four points above Leicester Lions so both will be keen on climbing the standings between now and the Christmas break.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned Taunton – who are currently second from bottom – take the 616-mile round trip to Darlington Mowden Park.
National Two North
“Leeds Tykes vs Rotherham Titans is an old-school Yorkshire derby,” says John Okafor. “You are talking about two teams that used to be in the Prem, used to be in the Champ at the same time so it is one of those games where it means a lot to a lot of people. It is one of the games you really want to play in.”
Rotherham Titans’ towering lock has neatly previewed the most enticing fixture across National League Rugby this weekend. The top two in National Two North will renew acquaintances for the first time since April 2018 when Leeds Tykes were under the guise of Yorkshire Carnegie and both clubs were plying their trade in the Championship.
After suffering periods of decline, the Tykes and the Titans are looking up again and they enter Round 11 as the only two teams across the whole of National League Rugby who remain unbeaten.
It is Leeds who currently lead the way, though. Pete Seabourne’s side have been nothing short of superb this term and 11 straight victories leaves them seven points clear of Rotherham, who do have a game in hand. The Tykes’ attack has been potent and no team has scored more points than them this season in levels three and four.
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Stopping the clinical hosts will be one of Rotherham’s main objectives on Saturday as they aim for an 11th successive win of their own. Ten triumphs on the bounce has kept the league leaders in their sights and while head coach Gareth Lewis told The Rotherham Advertiser this week that Saturday’s visit to The Sycamores won’t be ‘season-defining,’ if they were to head back to South Yorkshire with the victory, this title race would certainly intensify heading into the final three rounds before Christmas.
With the leading pair grabbing the headlines, third-placed Wharfedale also deserve some plaudits for their strong campaign thus far. While The Greens are not currently in the promotion conversation, they have been excellent this term and will want to see out November with a win when they travel to Preston Grasshoppers this weekend.
Sheffield Tigers (4th) lost to Wharfedale last time out but the Yorkshire outfit have also been going well and they will be targeting a fourth win from their last five matches when they entertain Lymm while city rivals Sheffield (5th) go to Otley aiming to stretch their unbeaten run to four games.
Elsewhere, fresh from their triumph over the aforementioned Otley, Fylde visit a Hull Ionians side eager to arrest a run of no win in three, Hull host Tynedale and bottom-of-the-division Huddersfield will be aiming for their first victory since Round Two when they take on Billingham.
National Two East
Round Nine and 10 in National Two East were befitting of what levels three and four serve up on a regular basis. Clashes between sides currently in the top five were gripping spectacles and what they have left us with is a brilliant battle at the summit. Dorking’s thrilling draw with Henley Hawks last week means despite no win in two, Armand Roux’s men are still top and now lead the way by a single point.
The Red and Whites conclude a challenging November by hosting Sevenoaks but for nearest rivals Barnes (2nd), another meeting with a possible promotion contender is on the agenda. Last weekend, Jack Heald’s troops saw their five-match winning streak come to an end at Bury St Edmunds (who we will come on to in a minute) but now they are preparing to face Henley Hawks (5th).
Luke Allen’s troops might be seven points behind Barnes, but they have it in their locker to cause their opponents problems on Saturday. Unbeaten in three, the Hawks will make the commute into London in good spirits but it must be noted that the hosts have lost just one of their last seven on their own patch.
📲🏉 National League Rugby Highlights: Round 10 | #Nat2e
— National League Rugby (@Natleague_rugby) November 20, 2023
Third-placed Esher might be eyeing up an opportunity to move into the top two as Peter Winterbottom’s side aim for a fifth straight win when they travel to Wimbledon while Bury St Edmunds (4th) are the current form side in the division.
Returning to our point at the beginning, the ‘brilliant battle’ which we now have at the summit can be attributed to the recent results of Jacob Ford’s side. Five victories in a row for the Wolfpack is impressive in itself but back-to-back wins against the top two means Bury are seven points off leaders Dorking going into their fixture with Westcombe Park this weekend.
Another club experiencing a purple patch is Canterbury who will be looking to make it a full house of wins for November when they take on Old Albanian while elsewhere, Tonbridge Juddians visit Worthing and Guernsey Raiders go to North Walsham.
National Two West
After a couple of twists and turns in the promotion race, November concludes with a meeting between the sides currently occupying third and fourth in National Two West. Exeter University (3rd) and Dings Crusaders (4th) are part of the chasing pack that are once again looking to reel in table-toppers Luctonians, but their primary aim will be to end the month strongly and keep building towards the Christmas period.
In terms of Exeter, while their duties in BUCS Super Rugby continue to go from strength to strength, their recent form in National League Rugby hasn’t been as consistent. Three wins from their last six perhaps highlights the balancing act head coach Gareth Elliott has to contend with but right now, he and his side are seemingly doing a solid job.
But their resources will be put to the test on Saturday as Dings arrive in Devon as the form team in the division. The Crusaders have won five on the bounce and will be confident of extending that record this weekend after victories over Loughborough Students and Bournville, as well as being the only side to defeat Luctonians this term.
📲🏉 National League Rugby Highlights: Round 10 | #Nat2w
— National League Rugby (@Natleague_rugby) November 20, 2023
Speaking of Lucs, credit must be given to Ryan Watkins’ league leaders. They could have lost their focus following the setback against Dings but after battling their way to two hard-fought wins over Camborne (2nd) and Clifton (5th), the Herefordshire outfit find themselves eight points clear again.
Round 11 sees them entertain Chester while Camborne will be gunning for a seventh win from their last eight matches when they travel to Loughborough Students. As for Clifton, who began last weekend in second spot, they will want to respond on Saturday away at Bournville.
Elsewhere, Hinckley will be out to extend their unbeaten run to four games when they face bottom-of-the-table Dudley Kingswinford, Redruth welcome Newport (Salop) to The Recreation Ground and Old Redcliffians host Hornets.
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