So it has all come down to this. Hull Ionians and Blaydon will be in the National One spotlight on this final weekend of the season as both sides aim to avoid relegation.
As things stand, Hull Ionians are two points clear of Blaydon and a victory of any kind for the Yorkshire outfit against Darlington Mowden Park will keep them in the division for a third consecutive season.
Blaydon know their fate is out of their hands. They need to gain a win away at Old Albanian and hope their north-east neighbours do them a favour against Hull if they stand any chance of staying up. It is set to be a dramatic Saturday at the wrong end of the table.
At the top, Hartpury College are close to creating history. John Barnes’ side have won all 29 of their domestic games this weekend and if they avoid defeat tomorrow away at Blackheath, they will become the first ever side to complete a National One season undefeated.
Elsewhere on the final day of the season, Plymouth Albion, Ampthill and District and Coventry all face tricky away trips, Fylde travel to Birmingham Moseley while Macclesfield host in-form Esher.
Blackheath v Hartpury College
Hartpury College are on the edge of history. John Barnes’ side have broken all sorts of records this season, but a victory away at Blackheath tomorrow will undoubtedly be their greatest achievement of this term.
Of course clinching promotion to the Championship in March is an excellent accomplishment, but considering Hartpury have the chance to complete this season undefeated and win all 30 matches is quite something. As things stand, the newly crowned champions have dropped only two points after securing 29 wins and who would bet against them becoming the first side in National One history to rack up 30 straight victories and end this campaign unbeaten?
The odds are firmly in Hartpury’s favour especially against a Blackheath side which has struggled since the turn of the year. ‘Club’ had been having an excellent season and they were certainly on course to challenge for second place after a run of 10 wins from their first 11 matches, but 2017 has been a year to forget for the London-based side.
Since their victory away at Esher in the final game of 2016, Blackheath have won just three of their last 13 matches which has seen them slip to seventh in the table and this run of form is well below the usual standards we have come to expect from Club. They will enter a new era in the summer under Head Coach James Shanahan as they aim to challenge towards the top spots once again, but for now, they will be focused on spoiling Hartpury College’s party this weekend.
Cambridge v Plymouth Albion
Plymouth Albion secured second place in the table last weekend following victory away at Blackheath and over the last couple of months, the men from Brickfields have really shown that they can challenge for the title next season.
Kieran Hallet has done a fine job as player/head coach since the departure of Dan Parkes and Albion fully deserve to be in the silver medal spot after a 12 game winning streak. Hallet has lost just twice since he became head coach which highlights that Plymouth seem to be in a really good place at the moment after a couple of seasons of unrest off the field since relegation from the Championship. Now, Albion will be hoping to extend the positive feeling around the club by extending their victory sequence this Saturday.
Plymouth have won nine times on the road this season and they may fancy their chances of taking that tally into double figures tomorrow when they travel to Volac Park to face Cambridge. Ross Stewart’s men will be satisfied with their season having secured their status in this division following promotion from National Two South 12 months ago, but he and his side will be itching to finish their campaign on a high.
The Blood and Sand come into this fixture with Albion having lost seven of their last eight matches and they have also not won at home since they beat Hull Ionians way back in November. Even though they lost 35-12, Cambridge did put in a positive display against Ampthill & District last weekend but if they play the same brand of rugby tomorrow, then they may just upset the applecart.
Rosslyn Park v Ampthill and District
Ampthill and District had to work hard for their victory over Cambridge last Saturday, but their 21st win of the season saw them accumulate a century of points for this term and they also matched their total of points which they reached in the last campaign.
The rise of the A’s over the last couple of seasons has been brilliant and they are firmly on course to surpass their achievements of last year as they travel to Rosslyn Park this weekend. The Bedfordshire side require just a point from this fixture to better their accomplishments of 12 months ago and considering Ampthill have already secured third place in the division and have won five of their last seven matches, confidence will be high amongst Mark Lavery’s men.
Rosslyn Park will be looking for a response this weekend. Park will finish sixth this season, which they may be pleased with after such a tough start to the campaign, but it could have been much more for the London-based side if it wasn’t for two shock defeats in Rounds 28 and 29.
Andy Holloways’ men fell to losses against relegation candidates Hull Ionians and Blaydon which ended their hopes of a top four finish, but Park will be desperate for this season to end on a positive note as they look to build towards a promotion challenge next term. They will have to compete for the top spots without Holloway next year as he is moving to Blackheath in the summer, but he and the rest of the squad will be searching for their 17th and final win of the season on Saturday.
Loughborough Students v Coventry
Fourth placed Coventry round their season off with a short trip to Loughborough Students this Saturday as they aim to extend their winning streak to eight matches. Other than the top two sides in this division, Rowland Winter’s men have been the form team over the last couple months so they will be confident of gaining the right result in this derby clash.
Cov have won all nine fixtures against Students over the last five years and the men from the Butts Park Arena are seemingly in the mood to take that figure to 10 this weekend. Cov have been pretty much faultless at home this season, but they have certainly improved on their away form recently and a fourth straight victory on the road will be the perfect way to cap off an impressive first season under the guidance of Winter.
While Winter and his coaching staff are already putting plans in place for next year after Cov announced the signing of Sale Sharks’ Sam Tuitupou this week, it will be all change at Loughborough for the 2017/18 campaign. Head Coach Dave Morris has agreed to join Championship side London Scottish next season and he will look back on his time with Loughborough with very fond memories.
The Students have become a regular in National One under Morris and after avoiding relegation last season, Loughborough have once again taken another step up the rugby ladder. They currently sit 11th in the table, but they still have a chance of finishing in the top half of this division if results go their way tomorrow.
Birmingham Moseley v Fylde
Birmingham Moseley end their first season back in National One with a home fixture against Fylde this weekend. Moseley have had a challenging campaign after relegation from the Championship 12 months ago and arguably, that was highlighted by last weekend’s defeat away at Esher.
Currently, Kevin Maggs’ side sit fifth in the table and he and the side will want to finish on a high as it is Maggs’ last game in charge of the club after six years at the helm. An immediate return to the second tier of English rugby has eluded Moseley this season, but they will certainly be up there next term.
Fylde will be competing against Moseley next season after they secured their safety in this division last weekend. Having lost five games on the bounce since February, the Lancashire club secured an impressive win over Loughborough Students to seal their place in National One for another year.
The men from Woodlands can now enjoy this final game of the campaign in the Midlands as they aim to become the fourth side to beat Birmingham Moseley at Billesley Common this term. Like Moseley, Fylde will want to complete this season on a positive note with Head Coach Paul Arnold leaving the club after tomorrow and just a second away win of the term would be the perfect send off for Arnold after seven years at the club.
Macclesfield v Esher
Eight weeks ago, I don’t think Esher would’ve believed they would be sitting in the top half of the table heading into the final day of the season. The Surrey-based side were still dicing with danger, but five wins in their last six matches has seen a poor campaign turn into a very satisfying term for Esher.
The men from Moseley Road have been one of the form teams in this division since the beginning of March and they have shown what they are really capable, especially last Saturday when they beat Birmingham Moseley. Esher now have their sights set on staying in eighth place and a bonus-point win away at Macclesfield tomorrow will seal a top half finish for the men from Moseley Road.
Macclesfield’s time in National One has lasted just 12 months. After scenes of celebration at Priory Park last year, Macc have failed to stay at this level and immediate relegation back down to National Two North was confirmed three weeks ago when they lost narrowly at home against Plymouth Albion.
In truth, the Blues have been performing well lately but they were given a harsh reality check by newly crowned champions Hartpury College last weekend as they thrashed Macc 92-7. However, displays at home by Giles Heagerty’s side have been one of the major plus points in a tough season and they will be searching for another positive result in Cheshire tomorrow as they aim to sign off in style.
Darlington Mowden Park v Hull Ionians
Hull Ionians travel to Darlington Mowden Park this weekend knowing that a win of kind at the Northern Echo Arena will be enough to keep them in National One for a third successive season. The I’s currently sit two points clear of the relegation places and they now have their fate in their own hands after a remarkable run of results in recent weeks.
The men from Brantingham Park have found their form when it has mattered most and take the short trip to Darlington this weekend having lost just one of their last five games. It is Hull’s best run of results this season and confidence will be high that they can get the victory this weekend which keeps them in this this division after a season plagued by injuries.
Darlington Mowden Park will sympathise with Hull Ionians in terms of injuries affecting their season, but the hosts will certainly not be gifting a result to their visitors on Saturday as DMP continue to fight for a top half finish in National One.
As things stand, DMP are just a point off Esher so back to back top eight finishes for the north-east side is certainly not out of the question. Their results in the second-half of this campaign have boosted their chances of achieving that feat, but they must improve on just one win from their last five matches if they have any hope of finishing eighth.
Hull Ionians Director of Rugby Alex Crockett: “It has been a frustrating campaign with plenty of injuries and players moving on due to jobs and retirement, but the boys are now playing well at the moment this is mainly down to their work ethic and attitude plus we have finally had some consistency in selection”
Old Albanian v Blaydon
Keeping a close eye on proceedings in Darlington will be Blaydon. Mickey Ward’s men currently sit just two points from safety and despite back to back victories against Cambridge and Rosslyn Park, their destiny is out of their hands.
The north-east side know that, realistically, they have to secure only their third away win of the season on Saturday if they are to stand any chance of avoiding the drop, but performances in recent weeks by the Crows has shown that they firmly believe they can still stay up.
Standing in their way will be Old Albanian who have a target over their own in this final fixture of the league campaign. OAs are currently just two points outside the top-half and if the men from Woollams were to jump into eighth, it would be the icing on a very good positive season for James Shanahan’s side.
Considering the OAs were promoted via the National Two play-off last May, they have never been in a relegation battle this term which is testament to the club and Shanahan. The current Head Coach will be parting ways with the OAs in the summer as he begins his new role at Blackheath, but he and the rest of his side, will be eager to end a positive season on a high by securing their 13th win of the campaign tomorrow.