Huge weekend in prospect in National Two South

Chinnor and Exmouth will be battling for different reasons this Saturday
©Aaron Bayliss

Without a doubt, National Two South has delivered the most drama out of our featured National Leagues this season and there are still so many more twists and turns to come.

With just three rounds of action left, the race for promotion and the fight for survival look as though they could go right down to the wire, but this weekend’s action should give us a clearer picture.

At the top, Bishop’s Stortford currently lead the way, but their margin at the summit of this division was cut last week as they fell to a defeat against title rivals Chinnor. Andy Long’s men now hold a seven point advantage over the chasing pack and a victory tomorrow at home to Redingensians would see them edge towards automatic promotion to National One.

Hoping to keep Bishop’s Stortford on their toes are Old Elthamians and the aforementioned Chinnor. OEs snuck their way back into the top two after a bonus-point win over Barnes in Round 27, while Chinnor fell out of the play-off place despite victory. Both sides are currently level on points as they resume their battle for promotion tomorrow.

Down at the wrong end of the table, the divisions’ bottom club Exmouth look as though they are on borrowed time. Anything less than a win against Clifton will relegate Jon Hill’s side, but even that might not be enough to save them. Relegation rivals London Irish Wild Geese host Henley Hawks and if Wild Geese secure a home win, then Exmouth’s time at this level will be over.

Elsewhere, fellow relegation candidates Worthing Raiders and Barnstaple are both at home while Barnes, who currently sit in the drop zone, travel to Canterbury.

Bishop’s Stortford v Redingensians

Last Saturday, Bishop’s Stortford suffered a minor blow to their title and automatic promotion hopes. Defeat against Chinnor and Old Elthamians’ win over Barnes means that Stortford’s lead at the top is now only seven points, but they are still firmly in the driving seat as things stand.

Andy Long’s men can actually clinch the title this weekend if they win and both Old Elthamians and Chinnor fail to pick up a point from their respective fixtures, but the men from Silver Leys know that just two more wins will be enough to confirm their place in National One for next season. Their first test is against Redingensians this Saturday and Stortford will be aiming to stretch their winning streak at home to six matches as they look to take another step closer to the National Two South crown.

By no means will this be an each task for the league leaders. Redingensians travel to Hertfordshire in fine form having won seven of their last eight games so the Rams will be no pushovers this weekend as they look to continue their fine end to yet another positive campaign at this level.

The men from Old Bath Road finished seventh last year and Redingensians are on course to better their achievement of 12 months ago. Considering they were plying their trade in National Three two years ago; it has been an excellent couple of terms for Mike Tewkesbury’s men who will hoping to gain their result of the season this weekend as they aim for a top six finish.

Old Elthamians v Bury St Edmunds

The result between Bishop’s Stortford and Chinnor couldn’t have gone much better for Old Elthamians last weekend. A Chinnor win without a bonus-point allowed OEs to sneak their way back into the play-off position after their victory over Barnes and the men from College Meadows are now only in the top two by virtue of ‘Games Won’.

Gavin Lach’s men have secured one more victory than rivals Chinnor which is why they currently occupy one of the promotion places and now the OEs’ fate is in their hands. They can head into the Easter break in second place if they secure maximum points from their fixture with Bury St Edmunds this weekend and you wouldn’t bet against them achieving that feat as they have scored 23 tries in their last two games.

Bury St Edmunds will be fully aware of the attacking prowess Old Elthamians have displayed against teams in the bottom half of the table over the last two weeks, but it has been an excellent month for the Wolfpack who travel to Eltham in high spirits and in great form.

Having won just one of their 11 matches between the end of November and the end of February, Bury have turned their fortunes around. They come into this fixture on a four game unbeaten run which has seen them secure their safety in National Two South for another year. Their excellent sequence of results has lifted them up to 11th in the table and Gavin Hogg’s men can now play pressure free rugby, but they will be keen to upset the applecart this weekend.

Worthing Raiders v Chinnor

On Chinnor’s club website, they summed up last weekend as ‘bittersweet’ and that was the perfect description. Matt Williams’ side knew they had to claim victory over Bishop’s Stortford to keep their title hopes alive, but even know they got their desired result, they slipped out of the play-off spot.

Chinnor remain on the cusp of the promotion places, but the men from Kingsey Road know they are playing the role of ‘chasers’ this weekend. Chinnor have to aim for maximum points from their remaining three fixtures in order to keep the pressure on OEs and a 10th win in 11 matches would keep them hot on the heels of their promotion rivals.

Whilst Chinnor are hunting down a top two finish, Worthing Raiders are edging themselves towards safety in National Two South. As things stand, the men from Roundstone Lane are six points clear of the relegation places but their performances over the last month or so are the reason why Worthing have been able to dig themselves out of trouble thus far.

From their last six matches, the Raiders have picked up 17 points which may not sound a lot but when you compare it to their relegation rivals; it is certainly a good return. A spirited display away at Redruth last weekend underlines their recent resurgence and Worthing know that a win this weekend could be enough to confirm their safety at this level for another year.

Taunton Titans v Redruth

For the second time in three weeks, Gary Kingdom kept his cool with the boot to seal victory for Taunton Titans as they beat Henley Hawks to stretch their winning streak to three matches. The Titans have once again had a strong season, but Tony Yapp’s side have just failed to take that extra step needed to compete in a race for promotion.

The signs have been there for the last three years that Taunton can battle for a spot in National One, but a patchy run of results during this season has halted their progress. The Titans will certainly go again next year, but for now, they will be hoping to end this campaign in the top four and a eighth win in their penultimate home fixture of the term would go a long way to achieving that aim.

The reason I say that is because it is fourth against fifth this weekend in National Two South as Redruth visit Somerset. Like Taunton, the Reds had a blip during this campaign which ended their hopes of a promotion push, but they will certainly comeback stronger next season.

As things stand, Marek Churcher’s side are a place behind and seven points off what they achieved 12 months ago. Redruth managed to rack up 102 points last year and victory tomorrow at Hyde Park would see them move above Taunton in the table and move closer to surpassing their achievements of last season.

Barnstaple v Cinderford

It was the perfect start to April for Barnstaple last weekend. A narrow and hard-fought victory over relegation rivals London Irish Wild Geese means that Steve Perry’s men currently sit five points above the relegation places with just three rounds of action left to play.

Barum were promoted into this division for the first time in the club’s history 12 months ago and the Devonshire side are certainly making a good fist of staying at this level. Last week, they secured their first ever victory in National Two South, but this Saturday, they are back at Pottinghan Road where they have been strong this term. Barnstaple host Cinderford this weekend having won on seven occassions on their own turf and another victory in their final home game of the season would see them take a huge step towards safety.

In fact, Barnstaple can confirm their status in this division this weekend if they secure a bonus-point victory and both London Irish Wild Geese and Barnes fail to pick up a point from their respective fixtures, but visitors Cinderford will certainly have something to say about that.

The Gloucestershire side currently occupy sixth spot in the division and they remain on course to finish in that position. The men from Dockham Road have had a fine second-half to the season after a troubled start to life at this level following relegation from National One 12 months ago and now they will be hoping to extend their three game unbeaten streak this weekend as they aim to end this campaign strongly.

Canterbury v Barnes

Relegation threatened Barnes take the trip to Canterbury this weekend desperately hoping that their wretched run of form comes to an end. The London-based side currently sit in the bottom two and are five points adrift of confirmed safety in National Two South with just three matches of the season remaining.

As we keep saying in our previews, due to London Welsh’s demise from the Championship, Barnes are technically only in the relegation spots because they have won less games than London Irish Wild Geese (who sit in 14th place) so they still have a great chance of avoiding the drop. Barnes head to Kent having lost their last nine games and if they were to stop the rot tomorrow, then it could see them move out of the relegation zone heading into the Easter weekend.

Barnes’ opponents Canterbury know all about ending a run of defeats. Last weekend, the City Men picked up their first win in five matches against Exmouth which saw them tightened their grip on eighth place in the table.

It certainly hasn’t been a particularly fruitful 2017 for Canterbury as they have won just four of their 11 matches. However, this has actually been a pretty good season overall for the City Men compared to their last couple of terms where they have finished in the bottom-half and another win against a relegation candidate this weekend could see Canterbury secure a top-half finish.

Clifton v Exmouth

Bottom of the table Exmouth are edging closer to relegation. After their defeat against Canterbury in Round 27, Jon Hill’s men are now hoping that 14th place will be good enough to keep them in this division for another season. Due to London Welsh’s exit from the Championship, they are only technically 12 points away from avoiding the drop, but it will take an enormous effort by Exmouth to turn things around.

The simple equation for Exmouth is this: If London Irish Wild Geese win against Henley Hawks tomorrow then regardless of Exmouth’s result in South Gloucestershire, they will be relegated to National Three. If Wild Geese fail to win, then Exmouth still might have a chance of avoiding the drop but only a victory would really suffice for the Cockles.

As for the hosts Clifton, they welcome Exmouth to Station Road aiming for back to back homes wins. Two weeks ago, they upset the odds as they beat Chinnor but slipped back into their inconsistent ways last Saturday when they lost away to Redingensians so they’ll be hoping for a response back on home turf.

With three games to go, the Lavender and Blacks sit ninth in the table and based on their form since the turn of the year, it is easy to see why. Clifton have won five and lost six of their 11 matches, but a mid-table finish may well be classed as a positive campaign for Clifton after fighting off relegation in each of the last two seasons. 

London Irish Wild Geese v Henley Hawks

Last weekend’s narrow loss to Barnstaple would have been tough to take for London Irish Wild Geese, but now the men from Hazelwood must put that to the back of their minds when they welcome Henley Hawks to Sunbury-on-Thames tomorrow.

Currently, Duncan Cormack’s side sit in 14th place in the table and as we have already stated, that would be enough for Wild Geese to stay in this division as things stand. However, that is certainly not something they’ll be relying on in these final weeks of the season and Wild Geese will be aiming for their sixth home win of the campaign tomorrow. If they were to achieve that, it would be a huge step towards safety for them especially as they take on Redruth and Chinnor in their final two matches of the campaign.

In terms of Henley Hawks, they currently occupy 10th spot in the table and they are only five points outside the top eight as we begin the final three games of the season. The side relegated from National One last April have found life at this level tough this year, but they have certainly looked stronger in this second-half of the campaign.

The Hawks head to Surrey this weekend having won three of their last five games, but they will be hoping to respond from their narrow defeat to Taunton Titans last weekend. This fixture with London Irish Wild Geese is Henley’s final away game of the season and they’ll be hoping to extend their winning run on the road to three games this weekend.

National League Rugby