Last weekend, Hull Ionians produced a hard-fought victory to defeat Cambridge and with that, they moved out of the relegation zone with just three rounds left of the National One season.
Their win at Brantingham Park saw Blaydon slip back into the bottom two, but the north-east side will be looking to match Hull Ionians’ result from six days ago as they aim to move out of the drop zone when they travel to Cambridge this Saturday.
As for the I’s, they have a tricky away test at Rosslyn Park so Blaydon may feel that their fixture at Volac Park could be the perfect opportunity to move out of danger at the first attempt.
At the top of the division, Plymouth Albion have the chance to secure second place for this season as they host third placed Ampthill & District while newly crowned champions Hartpury College visit Birmingham Moseley aiming to remain undefeated.
Elsewhere in National One, Coventry will be looking to continue their excellent recent form when they travel to Woollams as they face Old Albanian while already relegated Macclesfield take on Blackheath, Esher go to Loughborough Students and Fylde travel to Darlington Mowden Park.
Birmingham Moseley v Hartpury College
With three games left in the season, Hartpury College are still on course to become ‘invincible’ in National One as they travel to Birmingham Moseley tomorrow. It has been quite a few weeks for John Barnes’ men as they secured the National One title just under a month ago before sealing a University league and cup double last Thursday at Twickenham.
The next milestone which is on Hartpury’s radar is to complete this season undefeated. As things stand, College have won all 27 of their matches, with their latest triumph coming last weekend in an entertaining contest against Loughborough Students, but this Saturday, they face a tough test against fourth placed Birmingham Moseley.
Hartpury did beat Moseley 64-5 earlier in the campaign, but travelling to Billesley Common is a whole different ball game. Kevin Maggs’ men have won 10 of their 13 home matches this term and having been relegated from the Championship 12 months ago, this certainly won’t be a straightforward afternoon for the newly crowned champions.
Plymouth Albion v Ampthill & District
It seems to be a straight shootout for the silver medal spot in National One this weekend as second placed Plymouth Albion host Ampthill & District who currently lie third in the table. The home side have been in fine fettle under the stewardship of player/coach Kieran Hallet and they know a bonus-point victory this weekend at Brickfields would secure them the runners-up position for this season.
Albion come into this clash having won their last 10 games and since Hallet took the job in December, Plymouth have only lost twice. Added to this, they have suffered just one defeat at home this season – against Hartpury College – and if they were to secure a 14th victory in their final game of the campaign at Brickfields this weekend, then second place could be theirs.
Both Plymouth Albion and Ampthill & District look set for title challenges next year, but for the A’s, their recent rise has been quite something. After promotion via the National Two North play-off in 2015, the Bedfordshire side finished fourth in their first season in National One and they are on course to better that achievement this time around.
Ampthill are currently seven points behind Plymouth with three games remaining, but whatever happens this weekend, it has been another strong season by the A’s. However, there is no doubting that the Ampthill players will still have second spot on their minds and they will be giving it their all to clinch their 10th away victory of the campaign.
Old Albanian v Coventry
Fifth placed Coventry travel to Woollams this weekend to take on Old Albanian with the hosts enjoying a pretty good season with just three games left to play. James Shanahan’s side were promoted back into National One after a 12 month absence, but they have done superbly well to avoid any relegation trouble on their return to this level.
Instead, the OAs have held their own and currently find themselves eighth in the table. Shanahan told TRU at the start of this year that a top half finish would be a wonderful way to end his tenure with the OAs before he takes over the reins at Blackheath and his current side are certainly on course to that after a narrow win over Fylde in Round 27. OAs have won on six occasions at home this term and a seventh triumph would go a long way to securing eighth place for the St Albans side.
The OAs were thrashed at home by Esher last time they were at Woollams so they will be fully aware of the task that faces them this weekend when an in-form Coventry come to town. Rowland Winter’s men will be oozing confidence tomorrow after five wins on the trot; the latest coming against Rosslyn Park.
That aforementioned victory meant that Cov leapfrogged Park into fifth spot and the Midlands side will be eager to continue their fine form between now and the end of the month. Coventry have won just four times on the road this term, but they head to Woolams having won their last two away matches and you wouldn’t put it past them making it three wins on the spin on their travels.
Rosslyn Park v Hull Ionians
When the chance was presented to them, Hull Ionians delivered. A spirited victory against Cambridge last weekend saw the I’s move out of the bottom two and now they are three points clear of the drop zone as they head to London this weekend to take on Rosslyn Park
With three games to go, the value of Hull’s win last weekend cannot be underestimated, but the Yorkshire outfit now need to back it up by earning a positive result tomorrow. Hull have won seven times this season, but only one of those victories has come on their travels. That sole triumph came against bottom of the table Macclesfield at the end of September, but after such a huge result last Saturday, spirits will be high amongst the squad as they take the trip south.
In terms of Rosslyn Park, they will be itching for a response after an away defeat against Coventry in Round 27. That loss saw Park drop down to sixth in the table so they will be keen to try and wrestle fifth spot off Cov in these remaining three games of the season.
Overall, it has been another strong campaign for Park after a sluggish start to the year and they do look like a side that could challenge for promotion again next term after finishing as runners-up to Ealing in 2014/15. For now, Park will want to return to winning ways and against a relegation candidate, they may fancy their chances of an 11th home win of the campaign.
Macclesfield v Blackheath
Macclesfield welcome Blackheath to Priory Park this weekend aiming to finish this National One season on a positive note. Despite some valiant performances in recent weeks, Giles Heagerty’s side were relegated back down to National Two North last Saturday after a narrow loss against second placed Plymouth Albion.
Macc’s stay in this division has lasted just one season, but they have certainly put up a fight over the last couple of months. Their performance on home turf last week against Plymouth was superb and if they churn out displays like that next year, they will surely bounce straight back into National One. For now, the Blues will be keen to turn one of their recent encouraging performances into a victory and Macc may see this as the perfect opportunity to secure their fourth win of the campaign against a Blackheath side struggling for form.
As for Blackheath, their season has really tailed off since the turn of the year. At one stage this term, ‘Club’ were challenging for the top places in this division, but now they head to Cheshire this weekend having won just three of their last 11 matches and languishing in seventh place.
For a side that has finished third and fourth in each of the last two seasons, that recent form will be tough to take but Blackheath certainly have the quality to reach those heights again. They will be keen to end this season positively ahead of James Shanahan’s arrival in the summer and a first away since December would be the perfect start to ending the campaign on a high.
Darlington Mowden Park v Fylde
Darlington Mowden Park host Fylde this weekend at the Northern Echo Arena with the visitors still mathematically not safe from relegation. As things stand, Fylde are 13 points clear of the bottom two with three matches still to play and even though it is unlikely that Paul Arnold’s men will be dragged into the battle for survival, they will want to officially confirm their place at this level for another season as quickly as possible.
Last Saturday, Fylde were edged out by Old Albanian at home which means that the Lancashire side head north this weekend having lost their last four matches. They will be eager to halt this blip in form but this season, Fylde haven’t travelled well. They have won just once on the road so a second triumph away from home is necessary for the men from Woodlands as they aim to secure their status in this division.
As for Darlington Mowden Park, they too are going through a patchy run of form. DMP have lost their last three games with their latest defeat coming against Esher as they were comfortably beaten 50-33 in Surrey six days ago.
Currently, the north-east side sit ninth in the table and are harbouring hopes of a top-half finish. They are only two points behind Old Albanian so it is certainly not out of the question for DMP and an eighth win in their penultimate home fixture could see them move into eighth place heading into the Easter break.
Loughborough Students v Esher
Loughborough Students certainly played their part in an excellent encounter with newly crowned champions Hartpury College last weekend. Students scored five tries in an 11-try thriller and the upturn in performances has happened at just the right time for the Midlands side.
Before Hartpury, Loughborough beat Blackheath to end a five game losing run but after securing six points from their last two matches, they are still firmly in the mix to finish in the top-half which would be an excellent achievement for Students. They are just two points off eighth spot and a second home win on the spin could see them in the top-half of the table with just two rounds of fixtures remaining.
The current form side in the bottom half of National One are Esher. The Surrey-based side have peaked at just the right moment as three wins from their last four games has dragged them out of relegation trouble and has helped them confirm their status at this level for another year.
It has been a remarkable turnaround by Esher who head north this weekend aiming for their third away win on the bounce. Considering they had not won away from home all season until they beat Cambridge just over a month ago, it just shows how noteworthy Esher’s change in fortunes has been. Can they continue their excellent run of results this weekend?
Cambridge v Blaydon
Last weekend, Hull Ionians moved ahead of Blaydon in the battle to avoid the drop after victory over Cambridge and now the north-east side will be hoping to replicate what their relegation rivals achieved six days ago. The Crows fell into the bottom two after suffering a defeat at home to Ampthill & District and now they will be hoping for a response at Volac Park this Saturday.
Blaydon are three points from safety as things stand and after tomorrow’s trip to Cambridge, they face Rosslyn Park and Old Albanian (two sides in the current top-half) so they may well be targeting this fixture as a must win. Mickey Ward’s men have won just once away from home all season – against Macclesfield in January – but a second victory on the road could be the decisive moment in their fight for survival.
It feels unfair of me to have singled out Cambridge over the past two weeks, but on paper, the fixtures for the relegation candidates against Ross Stewart’s side seem to be their ‘easiest’ between now and the end of the season.
However, the Blood and Sand certainly put in a strong performance last weekend away at Hull Ionians and they will surely produce a reaction to their defeat when Blaydon visit tomorrow. Cambridge have only won one of their last six matches which is why Blaydon may feel like they can get something at Volac Park, but Stewart and his side will be determined to end a positive season on high and a fifth home win would be very much part of that.
National League 1 2016/17 - Points Table
National League 1 2016/17 - Leading Points-Scorers
National League 1 2016/17 - Leading Try-Scorers