The spotlight will be on National One, National Two North and National Two East this weekend as relegation could be confirmed for some while giant leaps towards safety could be taken by others.
Esher face Chinnor to kick off Round 22 and in truth, this could be the biggest game of the entire weekend. Both teams are hovering above the relegation places in National One but Chinnor gave themselves a shot in the arm last Saturday as they halted a run of three successive defeats thanks to their 26-22 victory over Cinderford.
Director of Rugby Nick Easter called it a “massive five points” and he wasn’t downplaying the result because the win moved the Black and Whites five points clear of the bottom three. Separating the Oxfordshire outfit and the drop zone are currently Esher who are two points above the dreaded dotted line. Peter Winterbottom’s side had generated some serious momentum in January but just one win in four since then – combined with better fortunes for their rivals – has seen them gravitate back towards the relegation battle.
Granted, the EEEs have played two of the three title challengers in recent weeks but you get the feeling that whoever comes out on top in Friday night’s meeting at Molesley Road will take a giant leap towards securing their spot in the third tier for next season.
🚨 𝙏𝙀𝘼𝙈 𝙉𝙀𝙒𝙎 🚨
Your Chinnor side for tonight’s big away clash at @esherrugby
— Chinnor RFC Thame (@ChinnorRFCThame) March 10, 2023
It is difficult to say what would be a good result for Esher and Chinnor’s rivals, but those of a Taunton Titans persuasion may lean towards an away victory as they continue their own scramble for safety. Tony Yapp’s side welcome Darlington Mowden Park to Somerset in Round 22 while Leeds Tykes’ clash with Rosslyn Park has been postponed due to the weather.
Birmingham Moseley – who sit six points above the drop – will be looking to improve on a run of one win from their last seven, but that is easier said than done as they face a tricky trip to promotion contenders Cambridge.
The title candidates are seven points behind league leaders Rams RFC and Seb Reynolds’ troops will experience a stern test of their credentials when they visit a Plymouth Albion side who have lost just twice at home all term.
Elsewhere, third-placed Sale FC – who are nine points off the pace – entertain Bishop’s Stortford while Hull – who were effectively relegated last weekend – go to Cinderford.
National Two North
Blaydon go up against Otley this weekend knowing that they must better Preston Grasshoppers’ result against Harrogate in order to keep their chances of pulling off a remarkable escape from relegation alive.
Eight points from their last four games had given them hope of potentially producing one of the stories of the season, but their upturn in fortunes has been matched by Hoppers, who are the side currently sitting one place above the relegation zone.
If the assignment for Sam Stuart’s men already sounded difficult, travelling to fourth-placed Otley may add an extra layer to that. The Yorkshire outfit have had a fine campaign since earning promotion back to level four last season and they have lost just once on their own patch all term.
However, they did suffer a recent defeat away at Preston so it does prove they are not untouchable but can Blaydon delay the seemingly inevitable for another week?
For the North East club, their efforts will unfortunately count for nothing if Hoppers match or better their result against relegation rivals Harrogate, who themselves will be desperate to boost their survival hopes as they currently sit 13 points from safety with a game in hand.
National Two East
Can Sevenoaks bounce back in Round 22? After frustrating and narrow losses against Canterbury and Bury St Edmunds to conclude February, Adam Bowman’s men were on the wrong end of a 49-8 defeat at Old Albanian last week, and it means the Kent outfit remain in the thick of this relegation fight in National Two East.
As things stand, they are just three points clear of the drop and if they are to return to the winners’ lounge this weekend for the first time since the end of January, their task is to get past Guernsey Raiders. On paper, last month’s fixtures for Jordan Reynolds’ boys looked treacherous but his side put in some strong displays including in last weekend’s excellent 31-27 victory over Dorking.
Their performances against the likes of league leaders Blackheath and an in-form Bury St Edmunds highlights the strength of the Raiders so despite them sitting just two places above Sevenoaks in the standings, it will be a tough challenge for the home side.
— National League Rugby (@Natleague_rugby) March 6, 2023
Sevenoaks’ rivals – Rochford Hundred and North Walsham – will also be eyeing positive outcomes from this weekend. Rochford – who were beaten 52-7 by Bury St Edmunds last time out – host Old Albanian while after running table-toppers Blackheath close in Round 21, North Walsham visit second-placed Worthing Raiders looking to replicate elements of last Saturday.
In terms of Worthing, they are currently 12 points behind Blackheath (1st) and James Shanahan’s men can take another step closer to promotion when they welcome Tonbridge Juddians to Well Hall. ‘Club’ have won their past 11 games but their last loss actually came against TJs back in November.
Meanwhile, Barnes will be keen to add to their run of five wins from their last six games when they take on already relegated Westcliff, Bury St Edmunds go to Canterbury aiming to also extend their purple patch of form and fourth-placed Dorking face Henley Hawks.
National Two West
With Hull and Westcliff having their relegation effectively confirmed last weekend, will Stourbridge follow them through the National League Rugby trapdoor?
Neil Mitchell’s side will be purely focused on themselves when they host Old Redcliffians at Stourton Park, but it is the activity of Midlands rivals Bournville which may determine whether or not Stour have their fate sealed in Round 22.
If Bournville pick up two points or more than Stourbridge in their away fixture at Loughborough Students, then no matter what Stour do against Old Reds, one of the stalwarts of National League Rugby will drop into level five.
However, Stourbridge are more than capable of avoiding that outcome on Saturday but it won’t be easy as their visitors – who at one stage were involved in the battle towards the bottom – have won three of their past five matches.
Newport (Salop) and Hornets are heading in the same positive direction as Old Redcliffians. Bob Adams’ side enter this weekend’s meeting with Hinckley having won three of their last four while despite losing to Newport last Saturday, Hornets are currently 11 points clear of the drop as they prepare to welcome Luctonians to Weston-super-Mare.
By contrast, Barnstaple dropped into the bottom two in Round 21 and are now three points from safety ahead of their visit to second-placed Clifton.
If the Chiefs were to restrict Clifton to just a single point or less at Station Road, then Leicester Lions could be crowned champions of National Two West if they are victorious away at Redruth. Gareth Collins’ men are on a 15-game winning run but if they don’t wrap up the title in Cornwall, they may well do so against Loughborough Students on March 25th.
Elsewhere, third-placed Dings Crusaders take on Exeter University.