Bishop’s Stortford on the verge of glory

Bishop's Storford know that a victory away at Exmouth will seal them the title
©Aaron Bayliss

National Two South league leaders Bishop’s Stortford are just one win away from securing promotion to National One and they can seal the league title this weekend if they beat Exmouth.

Andy Long’s men are currently seven points clear at the summit, so any kind of win for Stortford will see them earn automatic promotion to the third tier of English rugby.

The title now seems out of reach for the sides directly below Stortford. Both Old Elthamians and Chinnor have fought hard for top spot, but now they will have to put all their energy into securing the play-off place in these final two weeks of the season. As things stand, OEs are only in second place in the table by virtue of games won so there really is nothing to separate the two sides heading into Round 29.

The race for the play-off spot is as enthralling as the fight for survival as the next chapter in this thrilling battle to stay in this division is set to be penned this weekend. With bottom club Exmouth already relegated, the scrap for survival continues between London Irish Wild Geese, Worthing Raiders, Barnstaple and Barnes with the latter being the only side that can be relegated this Saturday.

Exmouth v Bishop’s Stortford

Bishop’s Stortford are nearly there. Victory in their away fixture against Exmouth this weekend will secure Andy Long’s side a place in National One and the National Two South title. Four years after promotion from National Three London and SE, it has been a superb rise by Stortford and the next chapter in the club’s history is close to being confirmed.

As things stand, the men from Silver Leys sit seven points clear at the top of this division so a win of any kind this Saturday will clinch the title for Stortford. Just one defeat in their last 11 games is the sort of form which champions elect put together at this stage of the season and no-one can deny that Stortford don’t deserve automatic promotion if they were to seal it tomorrow. They take the long trip to Devon this Saturday aiming for their 12th away win of the season and it could be the most important victory in Stortford’s recent history.

It would take something extraordinary for Stortford not to be celebrating promotion on their four hour journey back to Hertfordshire on Saturday, but already relegated Exmouth will be doing everything in their power to spoil the party. Jon Hill’s side had their fate sealed two weeks ago after defeat against Clifton which means the Devonshire outfit will be back in National Three after just one year at this level.

It has been a tough campaign for the divisions’ bottom club who have won on just three occasions this term. The Cockles have also drawn one match this season but all those aforementioned results have come at the Imperial Recreation Ground. Exmouth may already be down, but they will want to end their time in this league on a high and a victory tomorrow would certainly be the pinnacle of their season.

Cinderford v Old Elthamians

Second placed Old Elthamians are continuing to hold on to that all important play-off spot. Currently, the OEs are in the promotion places by virtue of games won, but since they moved back into the top two at the beginning of the month, Gavin Lach’s side have shown no signs of cracking under the pressure.

The men from College Meadows head to Gloucestershire to take on Cinderford having scored 194 points in their last three games. The OEs are playing with a swagger when it matters most and in this kind of form, they are looking good to earn themselves a play-off match against Sale FC on May 6th. For now, their immediate focus has to be on this fixture with Cinderford because any lapse in concentration opens the door for Chinnor, but a 14th away win of the term will slam that door shut once again.

Cinderford may well have thought that they would be in the position Old Elthamians are currently in having been relegated from National One last year, but a tough first-half of the campaign hampered any hopes the men from Dockham Road had of an immediate return to the third tier of English rugby.

Patchy results plus a five point deduction left them in mid-table, but a stronger second-half to the season has laid the foundations for Cinderford to challenge for promotion next year. The Gloucestershire side sit sixth in the table as things stand, but they are just going through a mini blip having won just two of their last five games. Cinderford will be keen to end their home fixtures for this season on a high and nail down at top six finish and a victory this weekend would go a long way to achieving that aim.

Chinnor v Taunton Titans

Cinderford have won the third highest amount of home games this season and if they were to continue their impressive form in front of their own supporters, then Chinnor could find themselves back in the play-off spot come Saturday night. As things stand, Matt Williams’ side are only outside the top two places on ‘Games Won’ so the race for a shot at National One is still far from over.

Victory this weekend over Taunton Titans could see Chinnor move back into the promotion places, but if they fail to pick up a point and Old Elthamians seal a bonus-point win over Cinderford, then the fight for second place will be over. That scenario does seem unlikely and considering Chinnor have won 10 of their last 11 games and are unbeaten at home this season, they will be confident of gaining a result to take this race for the play-off right down to the wire.

Chinnor may well be undefeated at home this term, but they welcome a Taunton Titans side to Kingsey Road who have the second best away record in the division. Joint with Bishop’s Stortford and only behind Old Elthamians, the Titans take the trip to Oxfordshire having won 11 of their 14 matches on their travels.

The Somerset side currently occupy fourth place in the table - having lost just three of their last 16 matches - and they have certainly improved on their performance from last year. However, Tony Yapp’s men may feel a slight sense of disappointment that they have been unable to sustain a challenge for promotion once again. Taunton will be hopeful of mounting another promotion bid next term, but for now, they could end another team’s promotion ambitions by continuing their excellent away form this weekend.

Redruth v London Irish Wild Geese

Despite London Irish Wild Geese sitting in the bottom three and currently a point from ‘confirmed’ safety, the Sunbury-On-Thames side cannot be relegated this weekend. Even if their relegation rivals all pick up maximum points, they cannot go down tomorrow due to the ruling brought in by the NCA following the demise of London Welsh from the Championship.

They have ruled that the records of the two clubs in 14th place in National Two North and National Two South will be compared and the one with the poorest playing record at the end of the season will be relegated meaning the other will avoid the drop.

Currently, Wild Geese have a better record than 14th place Sheffield Tigers and even if the Tigers win their match against South Leicester this weekend, Wild Geese will still survive. Despite all the permutations this weekend, Wild Geese will be purely focused on their trip to Redruth as they look to build on their victory against Henley Hawks which they achieved two weeks ago.

Wild Geese have won on just seven occasions following promotion into this division last year and one of those aforementioned victories was against Redruth just before Christmas so the visitors will be hoping for a repeat performance this weekend as they battle for survival.

Redruth welcome Wild Geese to the Recreation Ground looking to end another strong season on a positon note. Marek Churcher’s side were in the mix for a play-off spot at one stage this term, but defeats against Old Elthamians and Chinnor in February ended their hopes of a promotion push.

The Reds will certainly challenge towards the right end of the table next season, but for now, they will be keen to improve on what they achieved in the last campaign. Following their enthralling draw with Taunton Titans two weeks ago, Redruth are now only four points off their total of last year so a 12th home win of the season could see them surpass their achievements of last season.

Redingensians v Worthing Raiders

After three wins in four matches between February and March, it looked as though Worthing Raiders could see the light at the end of the tunnel. A change in fortunes had seen the Raiders move out of the relegation zone and closer to safety, but their last three results have dragged back into the battle for survival.

Consecutive defeats against Henley Hawks, Redruth and Chinnor means that Worthing are now just a point clear of the relegation places with two matches remaining in the season. The men from Roundstone Lane cannot be relegated this weekend, but they can secure their status in this division for another term if they secure a bonus-point win and another other results go their way. Worthing’s last win came away from home and tomorrow would be the perfect time to record another triumph on the road.

However, their task will be far from straightforward. They travel to Old Bath Road to take on a Redingensians side that is having its most successful season in recent history and they are team that are eyeing up a top six finish.

The Rams have surpassed their point’s total of last season mainly thanks to seven wins in their last nine games and now they are only two points off sixth placed Cinderford. With Taunton Titans to come next weekend, Redingensians may see this has the perfect chance to exert more pressure on Cinderford as they go in search of their eighth and final home win of the campaign.

Barnes v Clifton

Barnes are still fighting. The London-based club currently sit two points from ‘confirmed’ safety in National Two South and with two games left of the season, everything is still to play for. Victory in their last fixture against Canterbury was massive for them as it kept their bid for survival alive and they know that they must follow that triumph up with another win this weekend against Clifton.

Mathematically, Barnes can be relegated this weekend if Worthing Raiders pick up three or more points in their fixture with Redingensians and London Irish Wild Geese beat Redruth. However, Barnes will just be concentrating on themselves because their fifth home win of the season could move them out of the relegation zone heading into the final weekend of the campaign.

Trying to stop them will be Clifton. In recent weeks, the South Gloucestershire side have once again highlighted their patchy campaign. A defeat against Redingensians was sandwiched in-between victories over Chinnor and Exmouth so they’ll be hoping to end this season with a bit more consistency.

As we enter the penultimate weekend of the term, the Lavender and Blacks are sitting eighth in the table and based on their form since the beginning of this year, it is easy to see why. Clifton have won six and lost six of their last 12 matches, but a top half finish could be seen as an excellent season for Clifton who have been battling against the drop in recent years.

Bury St Edmunds v Canterbury

Level on points with Clifton are ninth placed Canterbury who visit Bury St Edmunds this weekend. The City Men’s season has really tailed off since the turn of the year after they had manoeuvred their way into the top six following an excellent run of form in the final two months of 2016.

Seven straight wins saw Canterbury surge up the league standings, but 2017 has been a year to forget for them thus far. They head to Suffolk tomorrow having won just four of their last 12 games and yet another inconstant season could cost them a top half finish. In truth, Canterbury have shown improvements from their previous two campaigns, but now they must pick up two victories in these final matches of the season if they have any chance of securing eighth place in the table.

Canterbury suffered a shock defeat at home to Barnes last time out and they know that they will be in for another tough test this weekend when they go to Bury St Edmunds. The hosts have found form at just the right time in the season as just one loss in their last five games has seen the Wolfpack confirm their status at this level for another year.

At one stage, it looked as though Bury were going to slide through the trapdoor and into National Three, but the last month has saved them from the drop. Gavin Hogg’s men can now enjoy the rest of the season as they look forward to a third consecutive term of level four rugby.

Henley Hawks v Barnstaple

Barnstaple are very close to securing their safety in National Two South in their first ever season in this division. The men from Pottington Road are currently four points clear of the relegation places and if they were to secure a bonus-point victory over Henley Hawks tomorrow they will be safe, regardless of what their rivals do.

Steve Perry and his side have performed admirably in this campaign and they are on the verge of achieving their target for this season. Barum’s recent form of three wins from their last five games has lifted them to the cusp of safety and just one more maximum triumph will be enough. It won’t be easy for Barnstaple to claim just their second victory away from home, but considering their current run of results, they will head to Henley full of confidence.

As for Henley Hawks, they sit 10th in the table as things stand, but they are only five points outside the top half of the table with two matches remaining in the season. The Hawks were relegated from National One 12 months ago and have found life back in the fourth tier of English rugby tough, but they have certainly shown signs of improvement since the beginning of 2017.

They welcome Barnstaple to Dry Leas having won three of their last six games, but they will be keen to end a run of consecutive defeats after losses against Taunton and Barnstaple’s relegation rivals London Irish Wild Geese. This fixture against Barum is Henley’s penultimate home fixture of the season as they aim to end a difficult season on a high.

National League Rugby