Bishop’s Stortford and Chinnor ready for ‘title decider’

Bishop's Stortford will be aiming to stretch their advantage at the top this weekend
©Chinnor RFC

The last month of the National Two South campaign is upon us and we are still unsure where the league title will be heading this season, but after Round 27, the picture may well become clearer.

This weekend, the top two in this division clash as second placed Chinnor host league leaders Bishop’s Stortford. As things stand, Stortford hold a 10-point gap over Matt Williams’ side and win for the visitors this Saturday would put them on the brink of promotion to National One.

However, if Chinnor were to bounce back from their shock defeat last weekend and gain a victory in this title showdown, then the race for automatic promotion is well and truly back on. Chinnor know how important a win is this weekend because if they fail secure a victory, not only will that all but end their title aspirations, but they could drop out of the promotion places all together.

Third placed Old Elthamians will start this weekend just a point behind Chinnor and they know a win against relegation threatened Barnes tomorrow could see them move back into the top two with just three games left of the season.

Speaking of Barnes and sides down at the wrong end of the table, Exmouth’s time in National Two South is creeping towards an end unless they can pull of a remarkable revival. The divisions’ bottom club were thrashed 97-7 last week by the aforementioned Old Elthamians and they will be hoping for a response against Canterbury tomorrow.

London Irish Wild Geese and Barnstaple also meet this weekend with both sides desperate for the win which could be crucial in keeping them in this division. Elsewhere in National Two South, fourth placed Taunton Titans travel to Henley Hawks, Redruth host Worthing Raiders, Redingensians welcome Clifton to Old Bath Road while an in-form Bury St Edmunds side have Cinderford as their visitors.

Chinnor v Bishop’s Stortford

Arguably, the destination of league title in National Two South comes down to this weekend’s clash between Chinnor and Bishop’s Stortford. The top two meet tomorrow with the hosts Chinnor knowing that anything less than a victory at Kingsey Road would all but end their chances of automatic promotion to National One.

Matt Williams’ side suffered a major setback last Saturday when they fell to a surprising loss away at Clifton and their first defeat in nine games means that the Oxfordshire side are now 10 points behind Stortford ahead of this crunch match. In addition to this, Chinnor are only a point clear of third placed Old Elthamians so a defeat tomorrow would heap serious pressure on the Black and Whites in the final month of this thrilling season.

You wouldn’t blame Bishop’s Stortford for feeling as though the pressure is off them heading into such a big fixture. Their ninth straight victory in Round 26 against Redruth means that Andy Long’s men are now firmly in the driving seat for the National Two South title with four games remaining of the season.

The men from Silver Leys will be aware that victory tomorrow in Oxfordshire would see them put one hand on the trophy, but they know that this won’t be an easy task despite Chinnor’s slip-up six days ago. Chinnor have not lost on their own turf this season, but Stortford travel to Kingsey Road having won their last six away fixtures. The stakes are so high this weekend and after Round 27, we will have a clearer picture of who will be lifting the league title at the end of this month.

Barnes v Old Elthamians

Keeping a close eye on proceedings at Kingsey Road will be Old Elthamians who take the trip to relegation threatened Barnes this weekend. As things stand, OEs are only a point outside the promotion places after they thrashed bottom of the table Exmouth 97-7 last Saturday and they will be keen for a commanding display against another side fighting for their lives.

OEs know that any sort of slip-up by Chinnor tomorrow gives them a serious chance of promotion to National One. After this fixture with Barnes, Gavin Lach’s side take on two other sides in the bottom half of the table as well as Cinderford so the importance of gaining a result this weekend is massive. OEs have won 12 of their 13 away fixtures this season and the odds are firmly stacked in their favour for them to add to that impressive record this Saturday.

Despite Barnes losing their last eight fixtures, the London-based side still have an excellent chance of avoiding the drop from National Two South. Currently, Barnes are only two points from safety but after London Welsh’s demise from the Championship, they are technically only in the relegation spots because they have won less games than London Irish Wild Geese who sit in 14th place in the table.

In truth, just one more victory from their final four matches could be enough to save Barnes, but they must stop this rot sooner rather than later. After tomorrow, Barnes travel to an out of form Canterbury and host Clifton before ending the season with a trip to league leaders Bishop’s Stortford. Any points will be crucial over this next month for Barnes and a positive result this weekend would be the perfect start to a vital four weeks for the side.

Henley Hawks v Taunton Titans

Having written off Taunton Titans’ chances of finishing in the top two, they may still have a glimmer of hope of sneaking into the promotion spots after Chinnor’s defeat to Clifton last weekend. As things stand, Tony Yapp’s men are only 11 points off second place, but if they are to somehow manoeuvre their way into contention, they will need to pick up maximum points from their remaining four matches.

The first hurdle which they will need to overcome is a trip to Henley Hawks this weekend. Taunton head to Dry Leas having won their last two matches, but on the road this term, the Titans have been excellent. They have picked up 10 wins from their 13 games away from Hyde Park and an 11th triumph will be a necessity tomorrow if Taunton still harbour hopes of a top two finish.

It is still a tough task for Taunton to achieve a promotion spot, but if Henley Hawks claim a victory this weekend, it could all be over for another season for the Titans. Henley will not be a straightforward task for the Somerset side as the hosts on Saturday are currently going through their best spell of the campaign and they may even have their sights set on a top-half finish.

After such tough first-half of the term following relegation from National One 12 months ago, the Hawks seem to have found their rhythm and they head into the final month of the season having won four out of their last five games.  At home this term, Henley have been fairly strong picking  up seven victories from their 12 matches but after defeat to Bishop’s Stortford three weeks ago, the Hawks will be keen to return to winning ways in front of their own supporters.

Redruth v Worthing Raiders

Fifth placed Redruth welcome Worthing Raiders to the Recreation Ground this weekend with the home side desperate to end this season strongly. Over the last few weeks, the Reds have tailed off slightly and Marek Churcher and his side will be eager to complete this campaign in a positive fashion.

The Cornwall-based side have lost three of their last five games which ended their hopes of creeping into the top two places and now the aim for Redruth has to be matching their fourth placed finish of last term. Currently, they are only two points behind Taunton Titans and an 11th home win in their penultimate fixture at the Rec this season could see them move back into the top four.

Despite suffering a defeat at home to Henley Hawks last weekend, Worthing Raiders’ recent form has guided them out of the relegation zone at this crucial stage in the season. Three wins in their last five games as completely transformed their campaign and the Raiders are now five points clear of the bottom three as we begin the final month of the term.

Worthing are not out of danger just yet, but you suspect that another victory from their final four games of this season could be enough to secure their status after another tough year for the West Sussex side. The Raiders take the long trip to Cornwall tomorrow for only their second away fixture for a month and a half, but a third win on their travels could be the pivotal result in their campaign.

Bury St Edmunds v Cinderford

In the middle of February, Bury St Edmunds would have been looking nervously over their shoulders. Just one win in seven matches meant that Gavin Hogg’s men were on the brink of the relegation places, but a perfect month in March has guided the Wolfpack to safety for another season in National Two South.

Victories over rivals Exmouth, Barnes and Barnstaple mean that Bury are now 15 points clear of the bottom three and their status at this level can be confirmed this weekend. The test for Bury tomorrow is to see if they can continue their good recent performances against a side ahead of them in the table. Bury welcome Cinderford to Suffolk having won six times at home this term and with spirts now high amongst the squad, they will fancy their chances of extending their winning streak this Saturday.

Cindeford have recaptured their form in recent weeks. The men from Dockham Road have secured back to back victories against Exmouth and Barnes which has further cemented their position of sixth place in this division after such a torrid first-half of the season.

The Gloucestershire side were relegated from National One last year and then were deducted five months in the first few weeks of this campaign, but over the last couple of months, Cinderford have really shown National Two South what they are capable of. You wouldn’t blame Paul Morris and his coaching staff for focusing on next season already, but Cinderford will be eager to end this current term on a positive note, starting with their seventh away win of the season against Bury St Edmunds.

Redingensians v Clifton

Last weekend, Redingensians bettered their achievements of last season. Their 14th win of this current campaign saw the Rams beat the number of wins they accumulated in the 2015/16 term and also, they have now surpassed their points total from last year.

It has been an excellent season for the Rams who continue to cement themselves in this division and now the men from Old Bath Road will be aiming to end this campaign on a high. It is hard to see Redingensians failing to that as they host Clifton this weekend having won six of their last seven matches and with confidence oozing in Cornwall, the Rams will fancy their chances of extending their impressive recent run in Round 27.

However, they will have to be wary of Clifton who head to Old Bath Road riding on the crest of a wave. The South Gloucestershire side upset the form book last Saturday by producing an excellent display to beat title chasing Chinnor and now the Lavender and Blacks will be hoping to build on that in their final four games of this term.

The men from Station Road come into this fixture having won four of their last six away matches and they are only a point outside the top half of table. Clifton have flirted with relegation in each of the last two seasons, but if they were to finish in the top eight this time around, I think that would signify a very positive campaign for them.

Exmouth v Canterbury

Exmouth Head Coach Jon Hill began his post-match press interviews last Saturday by apologising to the club’s supporters and sponsors following their humbling 97-7 loss away at Old Elthamians. He added that based on the Cockles performance last weekend, his side should be operating in the league below and Exmouth may well be plying their trade in National Three come next season.

Hill held his hands up after Exmouth’s worst result of the season, but the bigger picture is more worrying for the Devonshire side.  As things stand, Exmouth are 13 points adrift of certain safety, but following London Welsh’s exit from the Championship, they are only technically nine points from avoiding the drop. Exmouth cannot be relegated this weekend, but they know they must pick up their fourth win of the campaign at home against Canterbury tomorrow otherwise it could be curtains for them.

Exmouth may fancy their chances of achieving that victory as Canterbury travel to Devon low on confidence. Since the turn of the year, the City Men have struggled to recapture the form which they produced at the end of 2016 and as a result, the Kent outfit head into Round 27 having won just three of their last 10 matches.

Canterbury have actually lost their last five games which is the worst run of form by any side in the top half of the table and they are in danger of slipping out of the top eight if they fail to halt this slide in results. The City Men have won just four times on the road this term with their last victory away from Kent coming at the start of December against Barnes so they will be keen to put that right this weekend.

London Irish Wild Geese v Barnstaple

For both London Irish Wild Geese and Barnstaple, this weekend’s fixture at Hazelwood could well determine which division these sides will be playing in next season. The hosts Wild Geese currently occupy 14th place in the table and following the demise of London Welsh, the Surrey-based side are actually safe from relegation as things stand.

It is certainly too close for comfort for Wild Geese who welcome relegation rivals Barnstaple to Sunbury-on-Thames having lost their last seven matches. They are actually only two points off certain safety and they know that a first win since the middle of January would see Wild Geese move out of the bottom three this weekend.

The side directly above Wild Geese in the table are Barnstaple. The Devonshire outfit are two points clear of the bottom three as we begin the final month of the season, but Steve Perry’s side can take a huge step towards safety in their first ever year at this level if they secure victory at London Irish Wild Geese tomorrow.

Barum have won two of their last five games and in that time, they have faced three of their relegation rivals. It is another huge fixture for Barnstaple this weekend and they will see this as the perfect opportunity to earn their first ever away win in National Two South as they look to avoid immediate relegation from the fourth tier of English rugby.

National League Rugby