National League Two Division North Review/Preview

Stockport face league leaders Hull Ionians, with 71 points separating the two sides
Stockport face league leaders Hull Ionians, with 71 points separating the two sides
©Steve Marsland

Two games into 2015 and Hull Ionians and Ampthill and District are still very much neck and neck for the title. The race for third continues to be tight as well as the fight for survival.

Here is what happened last weekend in National Two North as well as what is coming up in Round 18 this Saturday.

Stockport v Hull Ionians
Hull Ionians retuned to winning ways last weekend as they beat an in form Broadstreet side 26-10 at Brantingham Park. After being beaten by Otley the week before, this was the perfect response from the league leaders. It wasn’t a polished performance from the hosts so the Ionians will have to be on their mettle to maintain top spot. They go to Stockport this Saturday and then return home for the most highly anticipated game of the season against Ampthill and District. Hull Ionians are currently three points clear at the top.
As for the I’s opponents this Saturday, Stockport lost 34-7 away at Preston Grasshoppers last weekend. Scott Jordan’s try had given Preston Grasshoppers the lead, but Port hit back through Chris Tennuci’s breakaway try to give the visitors a 5-7 lead at the break. The game turned when two early second half tries from Andy Napier and Lewis Allen gave the Hoppers a comfortable advantage. Preston then capitalised on Stockport errors and struck three more times as Sam Kindred, Jack Banks and Jordan again crossed for tries to seal victory. Stockport remain bottom of the division and are 23 points from safety.
This weekend sees bottom v top with Hull Ionians fully expecting to come away with maximum points from Headlands Road. The I’s have won six away games this season and have lost just twice in 34 National League Two North matches.  They also won this reverse fixture 52-15 in October. As for Port, they have notably performed better at home this season, but have lost six of their eight games there. They have only won once this season and that came against Huddersfield back in November.

Ampthill and District v Preston Grasshoppers
Ampthill continued to breathe down the necks of Hull Ionians as they came away from Birmingham and Solihull with an 14-31 victory. This was a controlled performance by the visitors on a heavy pitch, but they did lack precision and didn’t take a host of chances which they had.
In terms of Preston, they ended a five game losing streak with that 34-7 home win against Stockport, but know how tough this trip to Ampthill will be this Saturday. Hoppers are now 12th in table and if they win this weekend they can go as high as ninth.
Ampthill are second in the table and know any slip up by Hull Ionians at Stockport could see them top of the table on Saturday night. Ampthill have won all nine of their home games this season and have won four of their last five matches overall. As for Preston, they have won just twice on the road this season and have one win in their last six matches overall. Preston lost 9-57 to Ampthill back in October.

Otley v Harrogate
It seemed that Harrogate’s extra experience was key to them winning 28-10 against Hull last weekend and also they used the windy conditions to their advantage. It was a satisfying result for Harrogate who were defensively excellent, but Hull deserve a lot of praise for an entertaining game of rugby at The County Ground.  Harrogate are now third in the league six points clear of fourth placed Chester.
Harrogate’s opponents this Saturday are Otley who after beating league leaders Hull Ionians two weeks ago, could not back it up as they were beaten 40-12 by Chester. To be fair, Otley did have to make a number of forced changes from the side that did beat Hull Ionians and that did affect the way they played against Chester who put in a very strong home performance. With this defeat, Otley dropped down to sixth in the league, but are only two points behind Chester.
Harrogate go into this game against Otley with the best form in the league. They have won their last six matches and have lost just once in ten games. They have won just three times away from home this season and have picked up three draws too. They narrowly beat Otley 26-25 earlier in the season. As for Otley, they head into this clash having won three of their last five matches. They have also won seven of their eight games at home this season.

Broadstreet v Chester
Fourth placed Chester bounced back from three straight defeats to beat Otley 40-12 at Hare Lane last weekend. It was a superb performance from Chester who have had a tough time of things recently since Coach Nic Corrigan left the club to join National One side Cinderford in November.
Despite Broadstreet’s 26-10 defeat to Hull Ionians, they are still a side full of confidence. They certainly showed they were no pushovers against the league leaders and showed how good they are before the Christmas break. Broadstreet stayed ninth after this defeat, but are just four points outside the top half.
Chester will be looking to add to their win against Otley when they travel to Coventry this weekend. Chester have only won three times on the road this season, but they did beat Broadstreet 32-20 earlier in the campaign.
This will be Broadstreet’s eighth home game of the season and they have won four times when they have played on home soil.  They have won three of their last five games and I think this will be a very intriguing encounter this weekend.

Caldy v Stourbridge
After Caldy’s superb recent run of form they were stunned by Luctonians last weekend as they lost 24-10. It was a frustrating afternoon for the Wirral outfit who were up against very determined and resolute Luctonians side who 14th in the league. Caldy were good at the scrum, but just couldn’t convert their pressure and made individual errors.
As for Caldy’s next opponents Stourbridge, their woes continued as they were beaten 12-24 by Huddersfield. Their injury problems and poor form hampered them once again, but lost the game to a well organised Huddersfield side that deserved the victory. Stour did lead 12-3 at half-time, but they took their foot off the gas in the second half and Huddersfield dug deep to turn the game around and claim the win.
At home this season, Caldy have been excellent. They have won eight of their nine home matches, but they have lost their last two matches overall which has seen them slide away from a top three spot. They did edge out Stour 29-30 in the reverse fixture and know they must close the gap on third place Harrogate by securing a win this weekend. In terms of Stourbridge, they have really struggled with injuries this season and just haven’t got going at all. They currently lie in 10th place in the league and have won away from home on three occasions so far this season.

Sedgley Park v Birmingham and Solihull
Sedgley Park travelled south to Leicester Lions last weekend and came away with an excellent 17-28 win. Leicester had beaten Ampthill in their last home game before this so Sedgley were aware of the task facing them, but showed great character and commitment and used width to their advantage to seal the win. Sedgley are now seventh and are three points off Chester.
The Tigers’ take on Birmingham and Solihull this weekend who put in a valiant display against Ampthill last Saturday at Portway. The Bees are 13th with just one win in their last five matches.
Sedgley’s win against Leicester kept in tune with their mixed bag of results recently – four wins and three defeats in their last seven matches - but they have won seven of their nine games at home this season. Birmingham and Solihull have won four matches on the road this season which is the second most wins away from home in the league (Hull Ionians and Ampthill have six.) The Bees can go up to 12th with a win and pull further away from the drop zone. Sedgley won the reverse fixture 27-29 in October.

Huddersfield v Leicester Lions
After three straight wins, including a win against Ampthill, Leicester Lions suffered that 17-28 home defeat to Sedgley Park last weekend. Even though their scrum looked good, Sedge seemed to be more dynamic which proved to be the cutting edge in this game.
In terms of Huddersfield, their excellent 12-24 away win at Stourbridge once again highlighted the how well they are doing since being promoted last season. They currently sit 11th in the table and know with a bonus point win they can go ahead of eight placed Leicester this weekend.
Huddersfield have won four of their eight home games this season and have started the New Year with back to back wins. Their opponents Leicester have won three of their last five matches, but have struggled on their travels this season only winning two games.

Hull v Luctonians
Hull did put on a very positive display when they played Harrogate last weekend despite the 28-10 defeat. They were superb in defence in the first half, but couldn’t back it up in the second half and will be looking to this weekend’s ‘must win’ game against the Luctonians in order for them to climb away from the relegation zone.
It was a big weekend for the Luctonians who shocked Caldy to win 24-10 at Mortimer Park and they are now level on points with Birmingham and Solihull.
Hull have won one of their last five matches and have won just twice at home all season. They are six points from safety so know how important this weekend’s game will be. As for the Luctonians, they have won two their last three games which now sees them in the relegation zone only on point’s difference. A win could see them jump out of the drop zone, but Hull will be hoping to repeat their 20-23 victory of the Luctonians which they achieved earlier in the season.

National League Rugby