Promotion dreams on the line and a sense of opportunity encompass Round 20
The likes of Taunton Titans and Rochford Hundred could bolster their survival hopes while it feels like a significant weekend in National Two West at both ends of the table. Photo Credit: (Ian Clark)
The good news for Tony Yapp and Taunton Titans is their form over the last month has given them more than just a fighting chance of beating the drop in National One. As things stand, three teams are set to go down from the third tier but 12 points from their last four games has left the Somerset outfit just two points from safety.
Victories against table rivals Esher and Chinnor have been key and Taunton will be looking to build on those results when they take on Hull, who are currently rooted to the foot of the standings. While the Titans may feel quietly confident that they can avoid relegation, the trapdoor is seemingly closing in on Mike Umaga’s side who are yet to win a game all season. The Yorkshire club are 27 points adrift of safety with a maximum of 40 remaining on the table so a defeat at Veritas Park on Saturday would pretty much extinguish any flickering hopes of a remarkable escape.
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In between Taunton and Hull are Leeds Tykes who, after the heartache of losing narrowly to Bishop’s Stortford in Round 19, host Darlington Mowden Park this weekend. The Tykes are eight points from safety with a game in hand while DMP’s victory over Birmingham Moseley last time out means Garry Law’s charges sit eighth and 10 points above the drop zone. A big game awaits in Yorkshire.
Also jostling for position in this relegation scrap are Esher, Chinnor and Birmingham Moseley. All three clubs will be determined to return to winning ways, but on paper, that looks like a tough assignment. The EEEs face a tricky trip to fifth-placed Cinderford while Chinnor go to promotion-chasing Sale FC and Moseley entertain league leaders Rams RFC at Billesley Common.
Rams currently have a seven-point gap at the summit so Cambridge (2nd) will want to keep the Berkshire club in their sights when they take on fourth-placed Rosslyn Park at Granchester Road. Elsewhere, Plymouth Albion will be targeting their ninth successive home victory when they welcome Bishop’s Stortford to Brickfields.
National Two North
Blaydon’s attempts to pull off an escape from relegation took another tiny step forward last weekend. Despite a disappointing loss to Huddersfield, Sam Stuart’s side did collect a losing bonus point which leaves them 16 points from safety with seven games remaining in their campaign.
Their next two fixtures – against Sheffield and Sheffield Tigers – will probably tell us whether the North East outfit can engineer a remarkable recovery, so how will they fare against the Steel City duo? First up is a visit to Yorkshire to face a Sheffield side who are 19 points clear of the bottom two.
It would be interesting to hear what those at Abbeydale Park would say, but if you’d offered them this scenario at the beginning of the season after gaining promotion, they may have taken it heading into March. Interestingly, one of Blaydon’s two wins this term did come against Sheffield back in October so Anthony Posa’s troops will be keen to right the wrongs this time around.
Blaydon’s relegation rivals – Harrogate and Preston Grasshoppers – are also on the road in Round 20 and both will be buoyed after securing victories last weekend. Gate will be looking to build on their win over Sheffield Tigers when they take on an Otley side who, coincidentally, were beaten by Preston in Round 19 while Hoppers travel to fifth-placed Chester.
At the top of National Two North, attentions are beginning to turn to next Saturday’s humongous clash between title rivals Sedgley Park (1st) and Fylde (2nd) but you can guarantee both clubs will be concentrating on concluding February on a winning note. Sedge – who sit one point clear at the top with a game in hand – will be targeting an astonishing 19th successive victory when they entertain Wharfedale while Fylde go to Tynedale.
Meanwhile, Hull Ionains (3rd) visit Sheffield Tigers and Rotherham Titans take on Huddersfield.
National Two East
Rochford Hundred are bidding to end February with a welcome victory after a run that has resulted in just one win from their past 12 matches. What would have stung for Danny Cleare’s side are their recent defeats to table rivals North Walsham and Sevenoaks so they will be hoping to avoid that same outcome when they host Canterbury in Round 19.
The Essex club are currently two points from safety while Canterbury were able to ease any potential relegation fears last time out. Matt Corker’s side recovered from a slow start to claim a 33-30 win over Sevenoaks and The City Men now find themselves 14 points above the dreaded dotted line. Interestingly, four of their seven victories this season have come since the turn of the year so Canterbury may well be confident of maintaining their upward momentum this weekend.
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Some of the best tries and biggest moments from the weekend as @joeharvey34 and @c_heal host from @NewportSalopRFC…
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As for the promotion picture, Blackheath are in an excellent position as we prepare to enter the final two months of the season. ‘Club’ sit 12 points clear at the top – with a game in hand over nearest challengers Worthing Raiders – and they will be eyeing up their 10th consecutive victory on Saturday when they welcome Henley Hawks – who have won six of their last seven – to Well Hall.
The table-toppers still have to play Worthing and third-placed Dorking in what is left of this term but both of those fixtures come in the final two weeks of the campaign meaning Blackheath would have to slip up somewhere if their fellow promotion candidates were to reel them in.
In terms of Round 20, the Raiders entertain Guernsey and Dorking face Old Albanian while elsewhere, Barnes take on Tonbridge Juddians.
At the threat of writing off the chances of others, this weekend feels like a possible title decider in National Two West. League leaders Leicester Lions could be closing in on promotion to National One after opening up an imposing lead of 12 points at the top of the table. A run of 14 straight wins has left them in a very healthy position but they won’t be dreaming of the third tier just yet ahead of a huge meeting with second-placed Clifton on Saturday.
If the Midlands club were to prevail at Station Road, they would take some stopping with six games to go but the Lavender and Blacks are more than capable of breathing new life into this promotion battle. Matt Salter’s men have lost just one of their last six games but a recent home defeat to Dings Crusaders means it could be win or bust for the Bristol outfit. It is The National League Rugby Review Show’s Key Game this week and we cannot wait to see these two excellent sides thrash it out.
Were Clifton to win in Round 20, it could offer a route back into the title conversation for the aforementioned Dings (3rd) who travel to Loughborough Students while fourth-placed Hinckley go to Hornets and Redruth (5th) host Old Redcliffians.
Whilst it is a big weekend at the top of National Two West, the same can be said towards the bottom with relegation rivals Barnstaple and Bournville meeting in Devon. The two clubs are separated by just five points with the latter currently in the drop zone, but the Chocos do have a game in hand to come. However, a Barum win could be massive in the fight for survival.
Rivals Newport (Salop) – on the back of successive wins – take on Exeter University while bottom-of-the-table Stourbridge welcome Luctonians to Stourton Park.