Dramatic final day expected in National Two South

Old Elthamians have had their most successful season in their history and they can reach the play-off with another win tomorrow
©Aaron Bayliss
Chinnor have won 11 of their last 12 games, but will need Old Elthamians to slip-up this weekend
©Aaron Bayliss
Barnes have won their last two fixtures and head to league leaders Bishop's Stortford hoping to defy the odds and secure their saftey
©Aaron Bayliss
Worthing Raiders' fate is out of their hands, but they can still beat the drop this Saturday
©Aaron Bayliss

Strap yourselves in and get ready for a roller-coaster sort of day in National Two South as drama is set to unfold at both ends of the table.

After Bishop’s Stortford claimed the league title last weekend, Old Elthamians and Chinnor will be vying for the play-off spot this Saturday with OEs currently in the driving seat.

They are ahead of Chinnor in the table because they have won more matches than the Oxfordshire side and one more victory for Gavin Lach’s men will see them take on Sale FC next Saturday for a place in National One.

Down at the bottom of the table, four sides will be fighting to avoid relegation this weekend. Worthing Raiders, Barnes, London Irish Wild Geese and Barnstaple are all not safe from the drop and a maximum of two of those sides can go down tomorrow if results go against them. Who will be elated and who will be left distraught?

Bishop’s Stortford v Barnes

The newly crowned champions Bishop’s Stortford will be looking forward to their promotion party at Silver Leys this weekend after securing the title last Saturday. Andy Long’s men clinched their spot in National One for next season after a convincing win over Exmouth and now Stortford can enjoy their final home game of the campaign against Barnes.

The Hertfordshire side fought off strong competition from Old Elthamians and Chinnor to seal the championship and a run of 11 wins from their last 12 games helped them secure top spot in this division. Stortford will now be aiming to put the icing on the cake this weekend as they go in search of their 25th win of the campaign.

It may well be celebration time for Bishop’s Storford tomorrow, but Barnes will be hoping to join in with the merrymaking as they aim to avoid relegation. As things stand, the London-based side are 14th in the table and just a point off ‘confirmed’ safety following back to back wins over Canterbury and Clifton.

However, due to the demise of London Welsh from the Championship, 14th place may well be enough to keep Barnes in this division. The new regulations brought in following Welsh’s exit stated that 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.

Currently, Barnes have a better record than 14th placed Harrogate and just one more point for Barnes will mean that only two sides will be relegated from National Two South. However, one point doesn’t necessarily mean Barnes will be safe. They need to better the result of Worthing Raiders to guarantee their survival so they will have to be at their very best against the newly crowned champions on Saturday.

Old Elthamians v Barnstaple

The play-off place is in touching distance for Old Elthamians. Having occupied that all important second spot for the last three weeks, Gavin Lach’s side are now just one game away from booking their place in the National Two play-off against Sale FC next weekend. With great foundations and a talented squad, OEs have played superbly throughout this campaign, particularly since they moved back into the top two.

Having taken full advantage of Chinnor missing out on a bonus-point against Bishop’s Stortford, the men from College Meadow have kept their cool and have produced some high quality rugby over the last month. In fact, OEs have scored 38 tries and 247 points in their last four matches and with the Eltham club in this rampant mood, they have to be favourites to pick up maximum points this weekend.

Old Elthamains may well be playing with a swagger when it matters most, but Barnstaple will certainly put up a fight this weekend at College Meadows. Steve Perry’s side have had a positive first season at this level and as things stand, Barum require a win of any kind this Saturday to confirm their safety in National Two South for another year.

The men from Pottington Road currently sit one point clear of the bottom three, but their fate is in their own hands. They know how big of a challenge their trip to Old Elthamians will be but considering Barum have won two of their last three fixtures, they may feel as if they can get their desired result.

Old Elthamians Director of Rugby Gavin Lach: “It’s been our best season ever. Whatever happens on Saturday, it will be the highest position we have ever finished in the league pyramid.

“To put it in perspective;  seven seasons ago we were in London Three South East, and this season we will finish in the top three of National Two South. We have progressed every season and that’s good enough for me!”

“My head coach Sam Howard and I have never looked past the next Saturday, because each game has been treated like a cup final. If we were to have lost one more game or drop points it would have been as good as game over for our promotion chances. 

“So this week has been exactly the same - any mention of the play-off has been banned and all we are concentrating on is a powerful Barnstaple team coming to College Meadow fighting for their lives!”

Barnstaple Director of Rugby Steve Perry: “I think our first attempt in National Two South as a club has been a success. The target was, both on and off the field, to represent the club well and I think we have achieved that. 

“The players have adapted quickly and been very competitive, winning nine games in the process. The match day squad of 20 consists of at least 11 lads who have come through the clubs mini, junior section which is essential to a community club like ours. 

“We are away to Old Elthamians this weekend which is an exciting challenge. The pitch looks great and it will be another new experience for the players. It will be tough, but that is why we play this wonderful sport.” 

London Irish Wild Geese v Chinnor

59 miles away, both London Irish Wild Geese and Chinnor will be keeping a close eye on what happens at College Meadows as both clubs will be fighting for different causes this Saturday. Visitors and third placed Chinnor are only behind Old Elthamians on ‘Games Won’ so any slip-up by OEs at home to Barnstaple could open the door for Matt Williams’ men to snatch the play-off spot.

Chinnor have been in and around the top two all season, but despite them beating Bishop’s Stortford at the beginning of April, the Oxfordshire side fell out of second place as OEs secured maximum points on the road against Barnes. Since then, the Black and Whites have been hot on the heels of Gavin Lach’s side , but Chinnor’s fate this weekend is out of their hands.

As for the hosts London Irish Wild Geese, they are in control of their own destiny. Successive victories against Henley Hawks and Redruth has seen Duncan Cormack’s side move out of the bottom three and they are now a point clear of the relegation places heading into the final weekend of the season.

Following promotion 12 months ago, the Geese have fought hard to try and keep their heads above water and they are currently doing just that as they welcome Chinnor to Sunbury-On-Thames tomorrow. Wild Geese have won six times at home this season and another triumph in front of their own supporters this weekend will keep them in this division for the 2017/18 term.

Chinnor Director of Rugby Matt Williams: “It has been a bittersweet season, but whatever happens tomorrow, we have had the most successful season in the club’s history. We have scored the most points in the league and lost the least amount of games, but it doesn’t look like we will make the play-off.

“Our fate is in the hands of the gods, but we know anything can happen. We will just focus on ourselves because there is no point dwelling on what has happened. I am immensely proud of my players and we will be hoping to end this season strongly.”

London Irish Wild Geese Head Coach Duncan Cormack: “We are very disappointed to be fighting relegation come the last game of the season, however with the smallest squad in the league and by all accounts the lowest budget, we are incredibly proud of how we have done.

“We have had players back from injury and suspension recently which have been a bonus and it has allowed us to make a few tweaks to our game prep and plan, which seem to be causing the opposition some problems.

“I have been coaching the Geese and the same core group of players for 5 years and in that time we have been either in the run for promotion or fighting relegation. We have never been a mid-table team, so going down to the wire this Saturday is nothing new to us.”

 Worthing Raiders v Exmouth

Worthing Raiders welcome Exmouth to Roundstone Lane tomorrow knowing that their fate is out of their hands. The Raiders currently lie 15th in the table and three points off ‘confirmed’ safety following four defeats from their last five games.

As we mentioned earlier, 14th place may be enough to save Worthing this season but they must better the result of Barnes to achieve survival this weekend. However, what could work in Worthing’s favour are the fixtures their relegation rivals are involved in. All three of the sides directly above them take on teams inside the top three while the Raiders host already relegated Exmouth. The visitors will certainly provide a strong test for Jody Levett’s side, but on ‘paper,’ Worthing do have the easier fixture and a victory of any kind could be enough to keep them at this level.

Exmouth’s time in National Two South has lasted just one season. After promotion last year, Jon Hill’s side have found life tough at this level and immediate relegation back down to the fifth tier of English rugby was confirmed following their defeat at Clifton on April 8th.

The Devonshire side have shown snapshots of their qualities throughout the campaign, but it has only been snapshots. Just three wins all season highlights how difficult it has been for Exmouth this year, but they certainly have the talent to bounce back next term. However, their immediate focus will be on ending their stay in this division strongly as they go in search of their first away win of the campaign tomorrow.

Worthing Raiders Head Coach Jody Levett: “We are now in a position where we do not control our own destiny, which is frustrating. A home win is a vital step and with a bonus point, that would mean other results going against the form book, but at this time of the season, with so much at stake anything is possible. We can only control the controllable which is our result”

 Taunton Titans v Redingensians 

Taunton Titans have once again had another strong season in National Two South. They have been towards the right end of the table for the majority of the term, but patchy form between October and November is probably the reason why the Titans are currently fourth in the table and not challenging for promotion.

Tony Yapp’s side have certainly shown what they are capable of in the second-half of this season. They welcome Redingensians to Hyde Park tomorrow having lost just four of their last 16 matches and it is that kind of form which Taunton need to produce on a regular basis if they are to crack the code and finish in the top two. For now, Taunton will be focused on ending this season by securing their eighth home win of the campaign.

I think it is fair to say that Taunton have been one of the form sides since the turn of the year and that can also be applied to Redingensians. The Rams are currently in sixth place in the table following seven wins in their last nine games.

This sequence of results for the men from Old Bath Road has seen them surpass their points total of last season and they are on course for their highest finish in the club’s recent history. Redingensians head to Taunton having won eight times on the road this season and with Taunton’s inconsistent home form in mind, the Rams may fancy their chances of another triumph which would secure them sixth spot.

Henley Hawks v Redruth

Victory for Henley Hawks over Barnstaple last weekend saw them move up to ninth place in the table and as they prepare to welcome Redruth to Dry Leas tomorrow, the Hawks are now only three points outside the top half. Henley were relegated from National One last April and have had a tough season on their return to level four rugby, but they have certainly improved since the turn of the year.

They head into their final weekend of the season having won four of their last seven games and they will be keen to build on their win from last Saturday as they aim to snatch eighth place from Canterbury. Henley need to secure a victory tomorrow against Redruth and hope Canterbury lose at home to Cinderford if they are to finish this season in the top eight.

In terms of Redruth, they travel to Oxfordshire tomorrow looking to end another positive season on a high note. Marek Churcher’s men were in the frame for a top two finish earlier in the campaign, but losses against rivals Old Elthamians and Chinnor two months ago ended their hopes of a shot at National One.

The men from the Recreation Ground will certainly look to build on another strong term next year, but for now, they will be keen to bounce back from last week’s defeat against London Irish Wild Geese as they aim to leapfrog Taunton Titans into fourth place. The Reds must better the result of the Titans if they are to secure a top four finish.

Canterbury v Cinderford

Eighth placed Canterbury welcome seventh placed Cinderford to Kent this weekend looking to maintain their position in the top half of the table. After a difficult few weeks for the City Men, they answered their critics by grinding out a victory over Bury St Edmunds which kept them in the top eight heading into the final day of the season.

Two wins in their last three matches is a stark improvement to the form which they have produced in the first three months of the year, but the quality of Canterbury has started to shine through at just the right time in the season. The maths is simple for Canterbury; avoid defeat and a very creditable top half finish is theirs.

Cinderford will still be eyeing up a top six finish this Saturday as they take the trip to Kent aiming to finish their first season back in National Two South on a high. The men from Dockham Road were relegated from National One last year and rather than challenging for a top two spot in the early months of this term, they found themselves languishing in the bottom half.

The Gloucestershire side were also deduced five points during an inconsistent first-half of this season, but they have certainly improved since the beginning of 2017. There are signs that Cinderford can challenge for promotion next season, but they will be keen to end this current campaign on a positive note by ending a three game winless run.

Clifton v Bury St Edmunds

There might have been a few people associated with Clifton thinking that their chance of a top half finish this season was wasted last weekend against Barnes. The South Gloucestershire side fell to a defeat against the relegation candidates which, in a nutshell, sums up the inconsistent nature of Clifton’s season thus far.

In truth, the Lavender and Blacks may well be pleased with the way they have performed this year as they have avoided any trouble at the wrong end of the table, but they still do have a chance of finishing eighth if they claim a ninth home win of the season this weekend against Bury St Edmunds and other results go their way.

Bury St Edmunds will be saying their goodbyes for the right reasons this Saturday. Three months ago, the Wolfpack were sliding towards the relegation zone and it looked as though they could have been one of the sides saying cheerio to National Two South, but the Suffolk side were able to turn their fortunes around.

After one win in 11 games, Bury went on a four game unbeaten run between March and the start of this month which confirmed their safety at this level for another year. Also confirmed, was the departure of Head Coach Gavin Hogg who is joining National One side Old Albanian next season so Bury will be keen to give Hogg the perfect ending by clinching their 10th victory of the campaign tomorrow.

National League Rugby