National Two North Update: Round 19 & 20

Caldy won a thriller on the Wirral*
Caldy won a thriller on the Wirral*

Round 19 saw Ampthill and District go back to the top of the table due to Hull Ionians not being in action. Harrogate and Chester continued their good form and the bottom half continued to get closer as we enter the final third of the 2014/15 season.

Here is a look back at Round 19’s action and we also preview this weekend’s clash between the top two as well as all the other fixtures in this league.

Round 19 Review
Stockport P-P Hull Ionians
Hull Ionians didn’t get the chance to potentially stay top of this division on Saturday as their game with Stockport was called off due to hard frost and snow overnight in Bramhall.

Ampthill and District 22-17 Preston Grasshoppers
With that game postponed it gave the chance for Ampthill to go back to the top of the league, which they just about achieved. Preston were excellent in this game as they had an advantage in the tight and a dominant maul which helped them on their way to a 12-14 lead at the break. Ampthill’s backs looked dangerous throughout the game and that gave them the upper hand in the second half as they retook the lead. Preston hammered at the Ampthill door in the closing stages of this game, but the hosts held firm.
    •    Ampthill Director of Rugby Mark Lavery: “We got out of jail with our last 10 minutes of defense after Preston came with a game plan which they executed very well. We might have done more with the possession we had in the first half but all credit to Grasshoppers. This was as tough a game as we’ve had this season.”
    •    Preston Director of Rugby Garth Dew: “That was a hugely committed performance and we played with real rugby intelligence, something we have been trying to install all season. We need to take confidence from this performance into the coming weeks as we have some big games in the next month or so. We have a good pack who will give anyone a contest, as shown today, and they’ve done well all season. “Ampthill were clinical at times and that was the difference, we threw the kitchen sink at them and they have a very good defence. We need to bring the intensity from the last two games into our play week in week out and build on this for the rest of the season.”

Otley 10-20 Harrogate
This game was an excellent advert for Level Four rugby as both Otley and Harrogate defied the appalling conditions to produce a fantastic game of rugby. The match was a League/Yorkshire Cup “Double Header” so, as well as consolidating their league position, Harrogate are now in the Cup semi-final against Wheatley Hills. Otley led 10-0 in inside the first 10 minutes, but Harrogate upped their game to level the scores at the interval. The key moment came in the second half from Jake Brady who was playing his 150th 1st XV game for Harrogate and his try, after mounting pressure from the visitors, was enough to seal the win.  This was the first time this season Otley had not picked up points at home.

Broadstreet 19-23 Chester
Broadstreet fell four points short against Chester as the visitors but on an excellent defensive display to take the spoils despite Broadstreet dominating possession and territory. Both sides were guilty of mistakes and making the wrong decisions at times, but this was a much more evenly matched contest than the one earlier in the season. It was another point for Broadstreet who have really turned their season around since November and now look like they may well be playing National Two Rugby again next season. As for Chester, they are steadily improving after a tough spell and are now back in the top four.

Caldy 23-22 Stourbridge
Caldy edged this thriller at Paton Field and this was a much improved performance from the hosts who have not been at their best in recent weeks. As for Stourbridge, they fielded a much stronger side then they have in the past few weeks and that showed in their performance. Stour led after just four minutes, but Caldy hit back and then both sides exchanged blows as Caldy led 20-12 at the break. Stour didn’t ease off and led the game midway through the second half thanks to a penalty try, but the victory wasn’t to be for the visitors as a Gavin Roberts try and a Richard Vasey penalty gave Caldy the win.
    •    Caldy Head Coach Simon Verbickas: “It was very important that we bounced back after not being at our best in the last couple of weeks and I thought the team really delivered today. It was a terrific game of rugby played in a great spirit. A few of the senior players who have been a bit below par since Christmas certainly stepped up today and showed what they are capable of. We will now look forward to Huddersfield next week.”

Sedgley Park 17-22 Birmingham and Solihull
The mixed bag of results continues for Sedgley. Their last eight matches as seen them win four and lose four and that followed suit last weekend. The Bees secured this important win and ended a losing run against Sedgley which dated back to 2008. Two tries by winger Aquile Smith, a try for full back Ian Briggs and seven points from the boot of Adam Canning, were enough to outscore a Sedgley Park side who put in an uncharacteristically below par performance.

Huddersfield 37-3 Leicester Lions
It has certainly been a happy new year for Huddersfield so far. Three games and three wins as seen them move into the top half of the table and this win against Leicester was probably their best performance out of the three. They ran in five tries in difficult weather conditions against a sorry Leicester side and it looks as though Huddersfield will be staying in this league after promotion last season.

Hull 27-0 Luctonians
This was a massive win for Hull in terms of their survival chances in this league. Currently 15th in the table with the Luctonians just a place ahead, this was a huge win for Gary Pearce’s men who had the edge in all departments of the game from start to finish and really could have had more than just the 27 points. Nevertheless it was five point added to the league table for Hull who know they must keep up this level of performance as we enter the final third of the season. As for the Luctonains, this was a disappointing afternoon after they had made a promising start to 2015.

Hull Ionians v Ampthill and District
Well this is it. The game everyone who follows this league has been waiting for. The top two go ahead to head at Brantingham Park with the winner taking the number one spot in this division with ten games remaining. Hull Ionians go into this match having won their last 25 matches in this division at home and have won four of their last five matches overall.
As for Ampthill, they have won six of their nine away matches this season and have also won four of their last five matches. Ampthill won 25-15 in this fixture earlier in the season, but this game really is a title decider.

Harrogate v Broadstreet
Harrogate are currently the in-form side in this division. They have won their last seven matches and have lost just once in their last 11 games. This run as seen them move up to third in the table and they are starting to solidify that position. Harrogate have lost just once at home all season and that came on the opening day against Stourbridge.
As for Broadstreet, they have lost three of their last five matches. They came against Ampthill, Hull Ionians and Chester who currently are in the top four with Harrogate. Broadstreet have really turned their season around and now with 11 games left, they look like they are safe in this division for another year after being 15th for several weeks at the start of the season. They have won four of their 11 matches on the road this season and can move into the top half with a win. They do have to remember though that they are only eight points clear of the relegation zone.
Harrogate won this reverse fixture 24-28 back in October and have won the last three meetings between the sides.

Chester v Stockport
Things are beginning to turn around for Chester. After seven straight wins at the start of the season they then lost five matches in seven games which saw them drop out of the title race and the top four of the division. But, the last two weeks as seen them find their early season form and they are now back in fourth place.  They won eight of their 10 matches at Hare Lane this season as they prepare to welcome bottom side Stockport this weekend.
Port have not had it easy this season. Just one win in 18 matches sees them 24 points from safety, but they have been struck with so many injuries this season which has hampered their progress of staying in this league. They have lost four of their last five games and are yet to win on the road this season. Stockport have found it tough on their travels, but did play extremely well when Chester visited Headlands Road earlier in the season despite the 6-31 score line.

Huddersfield v Caldy
Stockport were promoted alongside Huddersfield last season, but the sides have had completely different fortunes since then. Huddersfield have made a superb start to 2015 with three wins in a row and have now moved into the top half of the table. They have won five of their nine home games this season and are 11 points clear of the relegation zone so it looks like they are safe.
In terms of Caldy, their win against Otley was much needed as they have produced some below par performances since the turn of the year. They currently lie fifth and know if they win and Chester lose to Stockport, Caldy will be back in the top four on Saturday evening. Caldy have won three of their last five matches, but they have only won three times on the road this season.
Caldy won the reverse fixture 31-22 back in October and they have won seven of the last nine games between the teams.

Preston Grasshoppers v Sedgley Park
Based on their own current form this game away at Preston should be a win for Sedgley whose recent results look like this: Last eight matches: WLWLWLWL. This form as really dented hopes for a top three finish for The Tigers but they are six points off the top four heading into this weekend. Sedgley have won only three times away from Park Lane this season and are coming up against a Preston side full of confidence after their last two performances.
The Hoppers won against Stockport and performed superbly against Ampthill so will want to carry on from where they left of, this Saturday. They will need no reminder either that they came within a whisker of beating Sedgley earlier in the year, but the Tigers narrowly won 33-31. Preston are 12th in the table and are only five points outside the relegation zone so they will be hoping for their second win in a row at Lightfoot Green on Saturday.
Overall there have been eighteen games in all between the two clubs, Preston winning twelve to Sedgley Park’s eight.

Luctonians v Otley
Otley fell just short of beating Harrogate in the Yorkshire derby last weekend and will be hoping to return to winning ways this Saturday when they go to Mortimer Park to play the Luctonians. Otley have won three of their last six matches and have won just three times away from home this season. With a win, Otley can move to as high as fifth in the table.
As for the Luctonians, they may still be reeling from a lackluster display against relegation rivals Hull last weekend and Otley may look to take advantage of that. The Luctonians have won two of their last five matches and have four wins to their name at home this season. If they are to pick up a bonus point win and Birmingham and Solihull don’t pick up any points away to Leicester Lions this weekend, they will move out of the bottom three.
Otley won 30-19 earlier in the season against the Luctonians, but the Luctonians have won four of the last seven meetings between the two teams.

Leicester Lions v Birmingham and Solihull
Leicester Lions will certainly want to move on from their thrashing by Huddersfield last weekend as they host Birmingham and Solihull on Saturday. Leicester have lost their last two matches, but have won seven games at home this season. With a win they can move up to eighth in the table which they seem to have adopted as they own position in the league this season. If Birmingham and Solihull were to win, Leicester could fall to as low as 11th in the table.
In terms of The Bees, they have won two out of their last five matches and are just four points clear of the relegation zone. Their win against Sedgley Park last weekend proved vital and they will looking to repeat the same feat this Saturday. The Bees have won an impressive five away games this season which is the second highest total behind Ampthill and Hull Ionians this season so this will be an interesting affair in the Midlands.
Leicester won this fixture 22-31 at Portway earlier in the season.

Stourbridge v Hull
Stour looked like they were getting back to their best last weekend at Caldy as they played arguably their strongest side for months. With that in mind, they will be confident they can end a run of four straight defeats when they host Hull on Saturday. Stour are currently 11th in table and eight points clear of the drop – a stark contrast to their promotion challenging season last year. They have won four of their nine games at Stourton Park this season.
As for Hull, they will be in good spirits heading into this one after their dominant display against the Luctonians last weekend. Hull are 15th in table, and five points from safety. They have started to improve in recent weeks with two wins in their last three games and a bonus point victory this Saturday would be enough for them to climb out the bottom three if results go their way.
Stour were victorious in the reverse fixture earlier in the campaign winning 18-27 on Humberside. 

National League Rugby