Defeat for Blackheath will see ‘Club’ drop out of the third tier for the first time in 18 years whilst Esher know two points or more will guarantee them promotion to National One on the final day of the season. (Photo Credit: David Howlett)
Now the dust has begun to settle on Caldy’s historic promotion to the Championship, all eyes are on the fight for survival in the third tier. At the end of March, Blackheath gave their chances of beating the drop a huge shot in the arm with a surprising but richly-deserved win over Rosslyn Park however since then, James Shanahan’s side have not been able to build on that result.
‘Club’ enter the final day of the season without a victory in three matches, but as has been the norm for the men from Well Hall, they did collect two losing bonus points during this period – away at Bishop’s Stortford and Sale FC – which took their tally to 15 LBP’s for the term.
Their failure to find themselves on the right side of some tight scorelines has seen them drop into the final relegation spot. They are now two points from safety and their 18-year stay at Level Three is under threat.
This weekend, they travel to Cinderford and Paul Morris’ men will be keen to rubber-stamp a top five finish. Worryingly for Blackheath, the Foresters are ending the season strongly and come into this fixture having won seven of their last nine matches.
If ‘Club’ are to avoid falling through the trapdoor, it does largely hinge on Leeds Tykes slipping up away at Taunton Titans (8th).
As highlighted above, Jon Callard’s side are two points clear of Blackheath so if they match or better the result of their rivals on Saturday, the Yorkshire club will be playing National One rugby next year.
MATCH VIDEO | 📽️Here's the video of yesterday's match v @MowdenPark 🏉https://t.co/bnvZNyQnVF
To get you in the mood, here are our tries 🥰#Honesty #Team1st#NoExcuses #WorkHard pic.twitter.com/SeQ6pGbXpl
— Leeds Tykes RUFC (@LeedsTykes) April 23, 2022
Anything less than that may mean the Tykes’ battle for survival could rest on the outcome from their game in hand, which coincidentally is against Cinderford on May 7th.
But that is a scenario which will not be in their thoughts when they travel to Somerset. Spirits will be high when they arrive at Veritas Park as back-to-back victories over Plymouth Albion and Darlington Mowden Park has left them on the cusp of pulling off a remarkable escape.
After falling out of the Championship and reshaping the club, it would be a solid achievement if Leeds Tykes were to book their place in the third tier for another year. Rightly, the focus will be on them in this Round 30 clash, but credit must be given to Taunton considering they were a newly-promoted side for 2021/22 and now have a top-eight finish in their sights.
So, the ball is in Leeds Tykes’ court then. Can they hang on to the last safe spot or will Blackheath snatch it from them?
Elsewhere on the final ‘official’ weekend of the season in National One, second-placed Sale FC will surely want to end a positive term in the best manner possible despite last Saturday’s disappointment against Caldy. Jonathan Keep’s men host Chinnor at Heywood Road whilst the fight for third sees current occupants Rosslyn Park host Plymouth Albion and Cambridge (4th) go to Rams RFC.
Also in Round 30, Bishop’s Stortford entertain Tonbridge Juddians and Birmingham Moseley visit Darlington Mowden Park.
National Two North
There might not be a lot left to play for in National Two North but each of the 16 teams in action on Saturday afternoon will be determined to conclude a long campaign with a victory. History was made last week as Hull clinched promotion to National One and the manner in which they secured the title summed up their achievement perfectly. A late try from Reece Dean saw them snatch the victory from near neighbours Hull Ionians and Gary Pearce’s champions finish the season with a trip to Luctonians.
In years gone by, we would have been ramping up the coverage surrounding the battle for second place with both Rotherham Titans (2nd) and Sedgley Park (3rd) level on points. However due to there not being a play-off this term, pride is all that is at stake with the Titans aiming to nail down the silver medal spot when they travel to Wharfedale whilst Sedge host Harrogate.
"The lads have put a lot into it so to also come away with that result just makes it all the more emotional."
— National League Rugby (@Natleague_rugby) April 26, 2022
Both the aforementioned Wharfedale and Harrogate will be bidding farewell to various members of their coaching groups whilst a couple of the newest bosses in the league – Fylde’s Chris Briers and Alex Loney – will be reflecting on their first season in charge once their final fixture against Tynedale is complete.
Elsewhere, Stourbridge – who like Fylde have thoroughly entertained us this season – face Sheffield Tigers whilst Hull Ionians welcome Chester to Brantingham Park, Loughborough Students entertain Blaydon and Bournville go up against Huddersfield.
National Two South
Following their Round 29 win over Worthing Raiders, Esher Director of Rugby Peter Winterbottom said he has been really happy with the way his side “have conducted themselves” in recent games. Nine straight victories means the equation on the final day of the National Two South season is simple for the Eees: two or more points from their meeting with Rochford Hundred and they will be champions.
You also have to agree with Winterbottom’s thoughts. Back in February, successive defeats were two big body blows to Esher’s title chances, but they have responded superbly and are now on the brink of a return to National One.
Rochford Hundred won’t roll over, though, and they will be satisfied with their maiden campaign at this level. Seven wins from their 28 matches gives Danny Cleare’s side something to work with in the summer but given they were soundly beaten by Clifton and more recently Esher’s promotion rivals, Redruth, the odds for their Round 30 clash seem to be stacked against them.
The aforementioned Redruth will be hoping this isn’t the case. Nigel Hambly’s side have taken this title race right to the wire and their pursuit of a first promotion for just over decade relies on Esher stumbling in Essex.
Since losing to the team they are currently hunting down, the Reds have won seven on the bounce and they must stretch that record to eight consecutive victories if they are to stand any chance of usurping Esher.
— Leo the Photographer (@mega_pics_sell) April 23, 2022
However, their task is a difficult one as they travel to Leicester Lions who have one of the best home records in the league this season. The Midlands club have won 12 of their 13 matches at TMDP Park, including a victory against Esher way back in September. Gareth Collins’ troops are also currently on a six-game winning streak and they could still finish in the top four if results go their way.
Redruth did beat the Lions 27-5 on the opening day of the campaign and that outcome could be enough for them to swoop in and nab the title, but their destiny is out of their hands.
With the spotlight on the top two, there are also six other fixtures taking place in Round 30. Clifton face Barnstaple, Worthing Raiders take the trip to Guernsey Raiders whilst it will be an emotional day at Woollams when Henley Hawks visit Old Albanian as this is the first time the two sides have met since the tragic passing of Hawks player David Hyde on the first weekend of the season.
Elsewhere, Bury St Edmunds are at Canterbury, Dings Crusaders take on Westcliff and Barnes welcome Hinckley to the capital.