With key fixtures rapidly approaching across the board, this weekend could be key for many sides wanting to achieve their aspirations. (Photo Credit: John Watkins)

National One

If the country hadn’t been taking much notice of National One this season, then maybe they will now. Followers of the division could wax lyrical about the standard of rugby being played at level three and yet again, another fascinating tussle at the top is beginning to take shape.

This isn’t hyperbole, either. At the start of October, Rams RFC were six wins from six and last season’s title challengers appeared to be in the driving seat. However, three successive defeats – for the first time since January 2017 – have dislodged the Berkshire club from the summit meaning Plymouth Albion now lead the way heading into Round 10.

In her column for Plymouth Live this week, Albion finance director, Ellie Venables, was rightly proud of her side given the progress they have made this term. The men from Brickfields have won seven of their nine games and now sit one point clear at the top, but can stay there?

The next few weeks will be interesting for Plymouth as before Christmas, they play three of the current top five sides but their run to the festive period begins with a visit to Richmond this weekend.

This will be the first meeting between the clubs since November 2019 and on that day, Albion edged past their hosts 31-30 thanks to a late Josh Skelcey try. Richmond will be hoping for better fortunes this time around and with Rob Powell’s troops currently occupying ninth spot in the table, they will be keen for a first home win since September.

The aforementioned Rams (2nd) will be keen to get their campaign back on track this weekend as Seb Reynolds’ side host Cinderford while Chinnor (3rd) – who were beaten by Plymouth last week – will be aiming for an immediate response away at Bishop’s Stortford.

Fourth-placed Sedgley Park will also want to return to winning ways in an intriguing Manchester derby against Sale FC, who enter this weekend following a victory over Rams in Round Nine.

Elsewhere, an in-form Birmingham Moseley (5th) will be targeting a fifth straight win when they entertain Blackheath, Rosslyn Park and Darlington Mowden Park meet at The Rock while two of the bottom three go head-t0-head with Leicester Lions visiting Taunton Titans. 

National Two North

It has unquestionably been a stunning start to the season for Leeds Tykes. Pete Seabourne’s side have led the way since Round Two and last time out, they recorded their 10th successive victory. The Yorkshire outfit – who face Lymm this weekend – are just one of two teams across the whole of National League Rugby yet to taste defeat this term.

And who is the other I hear you ask? Only Leeds’ title rivals Rotherham Titans (2nd).

While the Tykes have dazzled, Rotherham have been able to keep the league leaders in their sights. Gareth Lewis’ men have won nine from nine and sit six points off the top, but have a game in hand to come against Preston Grasshoppers on December 9th.

But either side of that fixture could be a season-defining period for the Titans. Along with their clash against Preston, Rotherham have to play the other four teams who are currently in the top five before Christmas, including Leeds Tykes away next weekend. This run starts at Clifton Lane on Saturday where they entertain Hull (5th) who will make the trip down the M62 in decent spirits after just one defeat in their last five games.

So will the Titans be able to make it 10 out of 10?

It is also fourth vs third in National Two North this weekend with Wharfedale and Sheffield Tigers looking to continue their excellent starts to their respective seasons at The Avenue.

Elsewhere across the division, bottom-of-the-table Huddersfield will be eager to arrest a run of seven straight defeats but that won’t be easy when they travel to sixth-placed Sheffield while Fylde host Otley, Preston go to Billingham and Tynedale take on Hull Ionians.

National Two East

We don’t think it is an over-exaggeration to suggest that Round 10 is the biggest weekend in the National Two East campaign thus far. After hailing Dorking’s (1st) winning start to the season, a first defeat of the term last time out for Armand Roux’s men has changed the picture at the summit of the division.

Despite their setback against Bury St Edmunds in Round Nine, the Red and Whites are still on top of the pile but only by virtue of points difference. Second-placed Barnes have stayed on the coattails of their promotion rivals and after battling past Old Albanian last week, there is now very little separating the leading pair.

What makes this Saturday so interesting though is this…

Dorking travel to fourth-placed Henley Hawks who have not lost at home since March and are currently on an eight-match winning streak at Dry Leas. Luke Allen’s side are also only eight points off the summit, just to add an extra bit of spice to proceedings.

As for Barnes, they are away to fifth-placed Bury St Edmunds who, of course, beat Dorking last weekend. Like Henley, Bury haven’t lost on their own patch this season and have won their last seven in front of their own supporters. On Saturday, Jacob Ford’s troops will be aiming for a fifth victory in a row overall and they have already defeated Dorking and Esher (3rd) in this campaign.

One final sub-plot for you all: The last club to beat Bury at the GK IPA Haberden was? Barnes.

With all of this going on, Esher will surely be keeping a close eye on proceedings when they entertain bottom-of-the-table North Walsham with Peter Winterbottom’s side just five points behind the leading duo.

Elsewhere in National Two East, Tonbridge Juddians welcome Wimbledon to The Slade and Canterbury visit Guernsey Raiders while Old Albanian take on Westcombe Park and Sevenoaks – fresh from their first away success of the season – host Worthing Raiders.

National Two West

If it feels like a big weekend in National Two East, National Two West isn’t far behind, and you can’t really look beyond Luctonians’ meeting with Clifton as the top two clash at Station Road. Last Saturday, Lucs earned a hard-fought victory over third-placed Camborne and after losing their unbeaten start against Dings Crusaders the week before, returning to winning ways at the first attempt was exactly the response the league leaders were looking for.

However, their triumph was made even sweeter by the fact Clifton were narrowly edged out by Bristol rivals Old Redcliffians meaning Luctonians head into Round 10 with an eight-point buffer at the top.

Of course on their last visit to the West Country, Lucs were beaten by Dings but Ryan Watkins’ side did do the double over Clifton in 2022/23, including a 41-7 win at Station Road. Saying this, the hosts have not lost on their own patch since February so all of these elements combined will make for a very interesting 80 minutes of rugby.

Camborne will be keeping close tabs on the battle between the leading pair, especially when you consider the Cherry and Whites are level on points with Clifton. This weekend, Steve Larkins’ side host Bournville – who sit just five points above bottom-of-the-table Newport (Salop) – who themselves entertain fourth-placed Exeter University. 

Also across National Two West, Dings (5th) face Loughborough Students and an in-form Redruth (6th) go to Hinckley while Old Redcliffians travel to Chester and Dudley Kingswinford will be aiming for back-to-back wins away at Hornets.

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