Round 13 of National League Rugby sees some potentially pivotal games taking place, and they could have a bearing on what is to come in 2024. (Photo Credit: Andrew McCumiskey)

National One

Has a festive period ever felt this important in National League Rugby?

Ok, I might be getting a tad giddy but the anticipation levels for the final two rounds before the Christmas interlude cannot be ignored. At both ends of National One, key fixtures jump out at you and it all begins with Round 13.

At the top, league leaders Rams RFC visit Richmond while second-placed Chinnor host a Birmingham Moseley (6th) side who have won five of their last six games.

That is intriguing in itself, but when you throw in the fact that the division’s top two (who are currently separated by just a single point) meet next Friday night under the lights at Kingsey Road, you begin to realise why we’re a little bit excited.

And that source of fascination filters further down the table as six of the ‘bottom’ seven sides meet on Saturday afternoon.

Currently propping up the table are Leicester Lions who visit Darlington Mowden Park (10th) with both clubs keen to return to winning ways while two teams experiencing a bit of a renaissance – Sale FC (12th) and Bishop’s Stortford (9th) – go head-to-head at Heywood Road.

But if you had to select a ‘standout’ tie of the weekend, it might well be at the Beavis Memorial Ground where Cindeford (11th) take on Taunton Titans (13th). At the halfway mark of the season, the home side find themselves hovering above the bottom three following a run of four successive defeats. Paul Morris’ troops have also scored the lowest number of points in National One but looking at it more positively, three of the five wins achieved by the Forest of Dean club have occurred on their own patch.

With Leicester Lions (away) to come next Saturday, it does feel like an important couple of weeks for Cinderford and the same applies to Taunton. Their derby day Christmas clash with Plymouth Albion always has an added bit of spice to it, but perhaps Tony Yapp’s men will feel Round 13 is more significant.

After seeing a 32-14 lead slip away from them against Sale FC last week, the Titans will be itching to right some wrongs especially as they are only two points behind Cinderford going into their final away fixture of the calendar year.

Elsewhere across National One, it is third vs fourth as Plymouth Albion welcome Sedgley Park to Brickfields while an in-form Rosslyn Park travel to Blackheath.

National Two North

If Rotherham Titans are going to maintain their National Two North title challenge heading into 2024, you have to say this weekend’s meeting with Preston Grasshoppers is fairly pivotal to those aspirations.

Why? Well, Gareth Lewis’ men head to Lancashire knowing their last result was the 26-20 loss they suffered against league leaders Leeds Tykes and with the table-toppers not in action this Saturday (their Round 13 meeting with Fylde was played at the beginning of October) Rotherham have the chance to cut the gap at the summit to as small as six points.

A bonus-point victory would make the challenge of reeling in Leeds Tykes less considerable than it currently is, but Preston will certainly have other ideas because they will be desperate for a win at Lightfoot Green.

Why? Well, everyone likes to taste victory at home but Alex Keay’s charges are yet to triumph on their own patch with all four of their successes this term coming on the road. However, one lovely little stat for you all is Preston did beat Rotherham 21-16 in this corresponding fixture almost exactly a year ago so Hoppers will now be tasked with repeating that trick.

Also in National Two North in Round 13, Wharfedale (3rd) return to action by visiting bottom club Huddersfield who will be aiming for just a second win of the season while two clubs experiencing a purple patch in form – Sheffield Tigers and Tynedale – meet at Dore Moor. Elsewhere, Sheffield (5th) will be out to extend their unbeaten run to five matches when they go to Hull, Lymm are at Billingham and two sides towards the wrong end of the table – Hull Ionians and Otley – meet in a crucial game at Brantingham Park.

National Two East

The responsibility of being involved in the headline game of Round 13 falls on the shoulders of Dorking and Esher but neither side will shy away from that challenge as we hit the halfway point in the season.

This top-of-the-table clash in National Two East has been circled and circled again in the calendar given the fortunes of both clubs over the last month or so.

Dorking continue to lead the way and while their recent matches have made for fascinating viewing, they have perhaps left supporters of the Red and Whites with little to no fingernails. Last week’s hard-fought 45-36 victory away at Tonbridge Juddians was a prime example of this, but Armand Roux’s men got the desired outcome to leave them two points clear at the summit.

As for Esher, they secured a sixth consecutive victory as they continued their momentum by running in 10 tries to see off Worthing Raiders. Two defeats in their first six games stunted their start to the campaign but Peter Winterbottom’s side look to be in the groove and will arrive at The Big Field oozing with confidence.

The last two fixtures at home for Dorking haven’t been straightforward (a defeat to Bury St Edmunds and a battling win over Sevenoaks) so they will be keen to put in a solid display while Esher will be out to ruin any early Christmas cheer knowing a victory will move them to the top of the pile.

Third-placed Barnes will attempt to jump-start their campaign in Round 13 after suffering back-to-back defeats in November. Losses to Bury St Edmunds and Henley Hawks have dented their promotion challenge but Jack Heald’s men have the chance to respond at home to Tonbridge Juddians (6th) this weekend.

The aforementioned Henley (4th) haven’t lost in four and visit Canterbury (7th) this Saturday – who themselves have won their last four games -while Bury St Edmunds could extend their unbeaten run to seven matches when they kick off the action on Friday night away at Guernsey Raiders.

Meanwhile, Old Albanian go to North Walsham, Westcombe Park entertain Sevenoaks and Wimbledon face Worthing with one point separating the sides at the wrong end of the division.

National Two West

Granted, we have made a lot of the title race in National Two West over the last month or so but the final two weeks before Christmas could be telling when you look at the picture towards the foot of the division.

With bottom-of-the-table Dudley Kingswinford visiting Old Redcliffians in Round 13 and second-from-bottom Newport (Salop) hosting fourth-placed Camborne, you feel that both Bournville (12th) and Hornets (11th) will be targeting an important victory when the two sides do battle at Avery Fields this weekend.

The hosts, Bournville, are six points clear of the bottom two and got no change from their visit to Chester last weekend. Their defeat in the North-West means Matt Price’s side have lost their last five games but what has been crucial throughout this frustrating sequence of results is the Chocos have managed to pick up bonus points along the way.

In the same period, Hornets have won two of their last five and they have also been able to scoop up some points when they haven’t been victorious. Their draw with Hinckley obviously helps with this, but try bonuses in defeat against Redruth and Old Redcliffians does leave them with a nice nine-point cushion between themselves and the bottom two.

Hornets face Exeter University (6th) in Round 14 while perhaps more significantly, Bournville visit Dudley Kingswinford so the next two weeks could prove crucial for the Midlands club if they are to avoid any relegation scrap in the second half of the season.

At the summit, table-toppers Luctonians continue to tick along and they will be number one at Christmas if they can get the desired outcome against an in-form Hinckley (5th) at Mortimer Park on Saturday while second-placed Dings Crusaders will be targeting an eighth straight victory away at Redruth. Both are certainly not straightforward games for the division’s leading pair.

Also across National Two West, Clifton (3rd) go to Exeter University and Chester visit Loughborough Students.

Make sure you follow National League Rugby on social media across the course of the season!

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn | YouTube | TikTok | Threads