All eyes are on the National Two West title race in Round 20 while elsewhere, promotion battles and relegation scraps are ready for their latest chapter. (Photo Credit: Ian Clark)

National One

“The guys are doing great taking it week by week, and we’ll keep doing that,” said Seb Reynolds.

Speaking to the club’s website following Round 19’s victory over Leicester Lions, this quote from Rams RFC’s Director of Rugby tells you all you need to know about the focus of the second-placed side who are once again embroiled in a gripping title race.

Since suffering derby day disappointment against league leaders Chinnor just before Christmas, the Berkshire outfit have won five on the spin and concentrating on the task in hand came to fruition last week.

As Chinnor slipped up at Blackheath, a storming first-half display from Rams secured their latest success and left them level on points with their promotion rivals heading into Round 20.

With just seven games to go, only points difference separates the leading pair and next on the agenda for Rams is an intriguing trip to Darlington Mowden Park (6th). Garry Law’s side may have fallen just short against Birmingham Moseley last time out but DMP, despite a growing injury list, have won five of their last seven games and have won their last four at The Darlington Arena.

One other notable statistic is they are the only team to have beaten Rams away from home this term so whilst Saturday’s clash does take place in the North-East, DMP may summon the spirit of that previous meeting as they once again look to cause problems for the title challengers.

As for Chinnor (1st), they will be keen for an instant reaction following their first defeat since Round Nine. This week, they host bottom-of-the-table Taunton Titans who will be fired up to get a result as the fight at the foot of the division is as equally as intense as it is at the top.

Sitting in the relegation places along with Taunton are Cinderford (13th) who host Richmond (7th), and despite just one victory from their last six matches, the Forest of Dean club might remind themselves that they did beat Rob Powell’s side back in November.

As Cinderford dropped into the danger zone last weekend, Bishop’s Stortford (12th) moved away from it after a huge win at Sedgley Park ended their six-game drought. They are now one place and two points clear of the trapdoor so Marcus Cattell’s troops will be aiming to build on that precious victory when they entertain Rosslyn Park (5th) this weekend.

Leicester Lions (11th) are level on points with Stortford as back-to-back defeats have just halted their momentum. Granted, Gareth Collins’ men have played two of the top three in recent weeks but next they face eighth-placed Sedgley Park at home while Sale FC (10th) will also be aiming to return to winning ways when they host Birmingham Moseley (3rd).

Elsewhere, Plymouth Albion (4th) travel to Blackheath (9th).

National Two North

The absence of victory is growing stronger for Hull Ionians as they continue to fight for their National Two status. Having not registered a success since October, their wait for a win was extended to 12 matches last week but they are certainly not staring into the abyss with seven games to go in their season.

The I’s are level on points with 12th-placed Billingham and they are only in the ‘danger zone’ because they have recorded fewer wins than the North-East outfit. However, given the way the fixtures have fallen in Round 20, perhaps this is when the Yorkshire club can strike back.

This weekend, the aforementioned Billingham host unbeaten league leaders Leeds Tykes whilst two other sides above Hull Ionians – Preston Grasshoppers (11th) and Otley (9th) – are also up against teams in the top half in the shape of Sheffield Tigers (6th) and title challengers Rotherham Titans (2nd).

Bringing it back to Hull Ionians, they are gearing up for a home tie with Lymm (10th) who come into this match in better spirits. Having seen a few games slip away from them this term, Adam Fletcher and Andy Davies’ men were able to see out a crucial 15-14 win over Otley in Round 19 which ended a four-match losing run.

The victory moved Lymm 11 points clear of any ‘relegation talk’ so if they can back up their sixth win of the season with another triumph, it could go a long way towards booking their place in National Two for 2024/25. Conversely, another defeat for the hosts will inevitably increase the tension around Brantingham Park.

Elsewhere in the division, bottom-of-the-table Huddersfield – who right now sit 11 points from safety with a game in hand – entertain Fylde (5th) while third-placed Sheffield take on Tynedale (7th) and Wharfedale (4th) go to Hull (8th).

National Two East

Comparing the fortunes of Wimbledon (12th) and Worthing (13th) has become a running theme (in my head anyway) over the last few weeks but while both clubs are towards the bottom, they are continuing to nudge themselves towards another campaign at level four.

In terms of Wimbledon, they stopped a four-game winless run in dramatic style in Round 19 as National Two East Player of the Week Ed Morgan snatched a stunning 31-27 victory away at Bury St Edmunds (4th). The bonus-point success – just their third of the season – saw them trade places with Worthing, who could only manage a try bonus point in defeat at Old Albanian.

As it stands, even though both are level on points [33] and Worthing do sit in the bottom two, the threat of relegation isn’t looming as large as it may have done in years gone by.

Due to the demise of Jersey Reds from the Championship, the impact of this on relegation means that clubs in 14th position in the three National Two leagues will go down as usual but the playing records of the three clubs in 13th position in the three National Two leagues are then compared.

The club with the best playing record remains in National Two with the other two clubs being relegated to level five and right now, Worthing have the best playing record over Hull Ionians [National Two North] and Newport (Salop) [National Two West].

The fact is Wimbledon and Worthing are picking up a healthy number of points each week and they will be aiming to do this again against Henley Hawks (5th) and Bury St Edmunds (4th) in their respective home games this weekend.

At the top, it will be Sevenoaks’ job to try and tame league leaders Esher, with Peter Winterbottom’s side targeting a 13th consecutive win. The EEEs – who are five points clear with a game in hand – do remain in pole position for an immediate return to National One but the only team to stop the table-toppers from securing a bonus-point victory during this remarkable run of form were Sevenoaks back in November. Can Adam Bowman’s men make life difficult again?

Interestingly, Esher don’t play title rivals Barnes (2nd) or Dorking (3rd) until the final two weekends of the season so all the chasing pack can do is keep applying the pressure. This weekend, an in-form Barnes host Guernsey Raiders (11th) while Dorking face Old Albanian (9th).

Elsewhere, Tonbridge Juddians (6th) visit bottom-of-the-table North Walsham and Canterbury (7th) go to Westcombe Park (10th).

National Two West

The assertion that Saturday’s meeting between Luctonians (1st) and Dings Crusaders (2nd) will be one of the biggest games across the whole of National League Rugby this season is not a wild one.

The duo have been first and second in this division for 13 straight weeks so it has all the feels of a possible title decider at Mortimer Park.

The hosts – Luctonians – have been occupants of top spot since Round Five and whilst they have faced moments of adversity in terms of dips in form, they have remained out in front. Ryan Watkins’ charges head into this encounter on the back of five consecutive bonus-point wins which has kept them six points clear at the summit.

But beating Dings would be a triumph they may cherish the most for a variety of reasons. Of course, a win would signify a huge step towards National One but the Bristol outfit are currently on the second-longest unbeaten run in National League Rugby. Other than National Two North’s Leeds Tykes – who haven’t tasted defeat all term – Stean Williams’ troops come into this weekend having not lost in 14 games.

Thirteen wins and a draw have more than kept Luctonians honest and the value of a victory in Herefordshire on Saturday would seriously shift the balance in the title race. Dings have also won their last three meetings with Lucs – including a 17-15 success back in November and a 34-20 win at Mortimer Park on the final day of last season – so the Crusaders have that in their back pocket.

Almost exactly a year ago, Clifton and eventual champions Leicester Lions met in similar circumstances and as the run-in starts to come into view, we once again have a crucial clash which could be pivotal in this promotion battle.

To the foot of the division where for Newport (Salop) (13th), that top-of-the-table contest will feel like a world away but the significance of their Round 20 fixture may carry the same importance. Due to the format of relegation, Bob Adams’ men are currently chasing down the points total of National Two East’s Worthing [33] in their pursuit of safety.

As it stands, the Shropshire club are 11 points off that total and could narrow the gap if they can get the better of 12th-placed Bournville, who they did beat at home in the reverse fixture earlier in the season.

Bottom-of-the-table Dudley Kingswinsford are faced with the same task as Newport as they sit 14 points from safety ahead of their meeting with Clifton (4th).

Elsewhere, it is the latest chapter in the university rivalry between Exeter (3rd) and Loughborough Students (9th) while Hinckley (5th) face Chester (10th), Camborne (6th) go to Old Redcliffians (8th) and Redruth (7th) host Hornets (11th).

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