Two teams could have their relegation confirmed in National League Rugby this weekend while a title showdown in National Two North may well be decisive come the end of April. (Photo Credit: Tim Browne)
It has been a difficult maiden campaign in National One for Hull and unfortunately for Mike Umaga’s side, their fate could be sealed this weekend. A disheartening 73-18 defeat to Taunton Titans last time out leaves the Yorkshire outfit 30 points adrift of safety with 35 left on the table, meaning it would take something truly miraculous for Hull to avoid the drop. The men from Chanterlands Avenue have certainly shown flashes of their quality throughout this term, but as centre Steve Johnson alluded to this week, they have been unable to sustain those good moments.
By contrast, their visitors on Saturday still have plenty to play for in what remains of this season. Sale FC (3rd) have lost just one of their last 14 matches to keep themselves firmly in the title hunt. Jonathan Keep’s men are eight points off the top and after their trip to Hull, they face Bishop’s Stortford at home and Darlington Mowden Park away before their huge meeting with league leaders Rams RFC on April 1st. However, the North-West outfit will be keen to focus on the here and now and a seventh successive away triumph will keep their promotion ambitions on track.
Speaking of table-toppers Rams, a seventh straight bonus-point win over Birmingham Moseley kept Seb Reynolds’ troops seven points clear at the summit. The next stop on their quest to the Championship is a home fixture with Leeds Tykes, who currently sit in the bottom three and are 10 points from safety.
TEAM NEWS: 200 UP FOR SKIPPER SUPREME STAPLEY
— Rams RFC (@Rams_RFC) March 3, 2023
Second-placed Cambridge – who have picked up excellent back-to-back wins – also face a side who find themselves in a scrap for survival. Following their victory against Cinderford, Esher welcome Richie Williams’ men to Molesey Road and as it stands, they are just two points above the drop zone.
Chinnor and Taunton Titans are level on points heading into Round 21 but the former are only outside the bottom three because they have drawn more games than the Somerset club. Nick Easter’s Chinnor will be looking to move away from the trapdoor on Saturday when they entertain old foes Cinderford (7th) while an in-form Taunton – who have collected 17 points from their last five games – visit fifth-placed Bishop’s Stortford.
Only 10 points separates the relegation places and Darlington Mowden Park (8th) and after three consecutive and important victories, they host Plymouth Albion on Saturday while Birmingham Moseley – who sit five points clear of the bottom three – travel to Rosslyn Park.
National Two North
Fylde’s loss at Tynedale in Round 20 has arguably raised the stakes ahead of their title showdown with league leaders Sedgley Park this weekend. The Lancashire outfit have been hit by injuries, but two defeats in February for Chris Briers and Alex Loney’s side means it could be a must-win at Woodlands on Saturday if they are to keep their promotion aspirations alive.
Their recent setbacks mean Fylde head into Round 21 six points off the top with Sedge also having a game in hand to come in two weeks time against Hull Ionians. In terms of the table toppers then, maybe more should be made of the season The Tigers are having. Nineteen wins from 19 matches is a stunning return for Scott Barrow’s men and echoes of what Caldy achieved in 2019-20 are on the horizon. On their way to the title, the Wirral outfit won all 25 of their matches in that curtailed campaign and Sedge are well-placed to do something similar. However, breaking records will not have entered their thoughts at all. Instead, adding another victory to their tally and increasing the gap at the top will be their sole focus.
Turning our attention to the fight for survival, bottom-of-the-table Blaydon are currently 18 points from safety with six games remaining in their campaign. A tough day at the office against Sheffield last time out dented their hopes of avoiding the drop but they will be looking to bounce back against Sheffield Tigers on Saturday while Harrogate – who sit in the final relegation spot – host fifth-placed Chester.
Gate are 12 points adrift of safety with a game in hand and the club they are trying to hunt down is Preston Grasshoppers. Dan Orwin’s charges had a strong February as they picked up nine points from their three fixtures to create a little bit more breathing space between themselves and the drop zone. The Lancashire club welcome Tynedale to Lightfoot Green in Round 21 aiming to continue their recent good showings.
Elsewhere in National Two North this weekend, Otley (3rd) meet fourth-placed Hull Ionians at Brantingham Park and Rotherham Titans host Sheffield in another all-Yorkshire affair while Wharfedale will be out to stop the Stewart brothers – Kian and Finlay – when they take on Huddersfield at The Avenue.
National Two East
It has been a very tough season for Westcliff in National Two East and the men from The Gables could unfortunately be relegated this weekend if results don’t go their way. The Southend-on-Sea outfit have lost all 19 of their games this term but despite being rooted to the foot of the table, the effort on show week in, week out cannot be questioned.
The Essex club need to pick up two points or more when they travel to Tonbridge Juddians if they are to stand any chance of delaying the inevitable, but The Slade isn’t an easy place to visit.
However above the bottom club, the fight to stay in the division is hotting up. North Walsham are the other side in the relegation places but last week’s success over Westcliff means they are just one point from safety. Jamie Knight’s boys face the daunting task of welcoming promotion favourites Blackheath to Norwich Road in Round 21 but three wins from their last six games might give them the confidence to cause the league leaders some problems.
Our Key Game on The National League Rugby Review Show focuses on the title race in #Nat2n 🏆
Which way will the pendulum swing at Woodlands?
— National League Rugby (@Natleague_rugby) March 3, 2023
Rivals Rochford Hundred – who sit directly above the dreaded dotted line – picked up a massive victory over Canterbury last week so will be looking to build on that triumph when they travel to an in-form Bury St Edmunds while Sevenoaks – who are three points clear of the drop – go to Old Albanian.
The aforementioned Canterbury are 11 points ahead of the bottom two but have played a game more than the teams below them and this weekend, Matt Corker’s boys host Barnes.
Elsewhere, second-placed Worthing Raiders will want to continue putting pressure on Blackheath when they take on Henley Hawks while Dorking (3rd) are away to Guernsey Raiders.
National Two West
Hornets have won three of their last five matches and have averaged 2.5 points per game since the turn of the year. While that might not be the most impressive stat you’ll read this weekend, that points return means Jon Richardson’s side are edging closer and closer to securing their safety in National Two West.
They currently sit 13 points clear of the bottom two (having played a game more) so victory away at Newport (Salop) would represent another positive step in the right direction. However, the hosts on Saturday are also experiencing an uplift in form. Thirteen points from their past four matches – including successive home wins over Dings Crusaders and Stourbridge – leaves Newport eight points above the relegation places. Four of their victories this term have come at Forton Road so another triumph in Shropshire could prove to be massive.
To knit together the rest of the relegation picture, bottom-of-the-table Stourbridge visit Dings Crusaders this weekend while Bournville – fresh from their vital win over rivals Barnstaple – host Redruth. The aforementioned Barnstaple currently sit two points above the trapdoor but begin March by facing league leaders Leicester Lions in the Midlands.
Following their victory last time out, the table-toppers stretched their advantage at the summit to 16 points so second-placed Clifton will be looking to respond to that loss against their promotion rivals when they go to Hinckley. Meanwhile, Old Redcliffians – who won three of their four games in February to ease any relegation fears – take on Loughborough Students.