BUCS Super Rugby returned this week and with just two months to go until finals day at Twickenham, we are entering the business end of the season.
A place in the top four is in the balance and the battle to be crowned league champions is heating up, but how do things stand as we begin the second half of the campaign? We take a look at how the teams have fared so far this term and what their realistic aims are for the rest of the season…
At the beginning of this BUCS Super Rugby season, many people thought the usual suspects would be leading the way to book their place at Twickenham, as the likes of Exeter, Loughborough and current champions Hartpury all claimed early victories.
However, Hartpury and Loughborough suffered defeats and their patchy form has left them with work to do if they are to claim a top four place.
Exeter are challenging with Northumbria & Cardiff Met for the BUCS Super Rugby title as things stand. Credit: BUCS
And while the two aforementioned sides struggled for form, two emerging teams started to take control. Five straight wins for Northumbria during October and November and some outstanding displays by winger Will Muir has put Darren Fearn’s side right in the mix to top the division, but they do have stiff competition from another unlikely contender, Cardiff Met.
Nine wins from their last 10 matches, including a hard fought 28-21 victory over Bath to begin 2018, has put the Welsh outfit in contention for pole position in BUCS Super Rugby with the likes of Tom Morgan and Alex Dombrandt starring. Both Northumbria and Cardiff Met sit three points off a very talented Exeter who have won nine of their 11 fixtures this season.
But waiting to join the party in BUCS Super Rugby are fourth placed Leeds Beckett. After a very tough season last year, Beckett would have been seeking a stronger campaign this time around and so far, they are achieving their aim. With Beckett being 10 points off second placed Northumbria whilst also having two games in hand, four teams could seriously be in with a shout of topping BUCS Super Rugby.
For the teams below fifth placed Loughborough - who are three points off the top four despite some inconsistent results – the story has been the struggles of defending champions Hartpury this season, who are now unlikely to claim a semi-final place.
Hartpury have struggled to replicate their double winning season this year. Credit: BUCS
Hartpury’s 1st XV clinched a remarkable promotion to the Championship last season following an unbeaten season in National One and their rise up the English rugby pyramid may well be having an effect on their university set-up. Added to that, with some key players injured plus influential members of the squad moving on last summer, Hartpury have managed just three wins from their nine matches so they will be hoping to have a strong finish to a tough season.
Last year, Hartpury were in the BUCS Super Rugby semi-finals alongside Exeter, Loughborough and Bath, but the latter has found consistency hard to come by this season. Aaron James’ men currently sit sixth in the table having played 12 of their allotted 16 matches so far, but they have only been able to muster up three victories.
You can’t question the quality in Bath’s ranks. Tom Doughty, Levi Davis and Luca Petrozzi have all sprinkled a bit of magic for the Blue and Golds, but their strong performances have been few and far between. James stated that his side were once again left frustrated following their defeat to Cardiff Met and that frustration has been a common theme for Bath this term.
After Christmas we have two remaining fixtures at The Bay against Northumbria and Loughborough.— NTU Rugby Union (@NTURugbyUnion) December 18, 2017
See image for dates and KO time.
Full fixture list: https://t.co/TfDTWrDKAh#BUCSSuperRugby #BleedPink #NTU #Rugby #Sport pic.twitter.com/4lamvZNVfw
Another university side with a great pedigree are Durham but they, like Bath, have found life difficult this year. The northeast outfit currently accommodate eighth in the table, but they do still believe they could challenge for a top four spot in the reminder of the season. Granted, the likes of Durham, Bath and Hartpury can still mathematically finish in those all-important places, but Alex Keay’s men would really have to turn their campaign around after just three wins from 10 matches.
But, a side that will just be focused on trying to stay in this division will be Nottingham Trent. The new boys to BUCS Super Rugby have really struggled with the step-up to this level which is highlighted by 10 straight defeats, leaving them 14 points off Durham as things stand. Captain John Hargreaves emphasised that Trent will play a brand of fluid rugby this term and whilst trying to stick to their principles, they have been undone by the class in BUCS Super Rugby. Can Trent pull off a remarkable recovery?