National Two North Update: Round 20 & 21

Hoppers got a valuable home victory against Sedgley
Hoppers got a valuable home victory against Sedgley

Hull Ionians took a massive step towards the title with their win against Ampthill, Huddersfield continued their amazing start to 2015 as Preston Grasshoppers and Stourbridge both picked up vital victories. Here is what happened in Round 20 of National League Two Division North as well as what is coming up this weekend.

Round 20 Review
Hull Ionians 7-6 Ampthill and District
The top two faced off in what was being dubbed as the title decider with 10 games to go of the season and it certainly lived up to that. It wasn’t the highest scoring match, but it made up for that in intensity and passion at Brantingham Park. The try from Laurence Cowen was enough for victory, but the defensive performances from both sides were tremendous. This whole encounter was a superb advert for National Two Rugby.
Hull Ionians Head Coach, Alex Crockett: “It was without doubt our best defensive display of the season. Our swarming defence was excellent and denied them any time and space. Whenever they carried we stopped them in their tracks. It had the feel of a play-off match, tight and tense, but our togetherness as a team and our endeavour shone through”
Ampthill Director of Rugby Mark Lavery: “This was titanic struggle in which both sides gave everything, I couldn’t have asked for more effort from our squad. Our execution wasn’t good enough when we had opportunities and we can have no complaints.”

Harrogate P-P Broadstreet
Harrogate’s game with Broadstreet was postponed due to the weather. The game has been rescheduled for February 28th.

Chester 41-5 Stockport
Chester secured their third win in a row as they eventually eased to a 41-5 victory over Stockport at Hare Lane. Jamie Anthony opened the scoring for Stockport in a first half which his side controlled, but a yellow card 10 minutes before the break for Port, allowed Michael Craven and David Ford to go over to give the hosts a half-time lead.  From there, Chester didn’t look back. William Goodwin crossed over, Ford added his second and tries from John Ketland, Rhys Hayes and Max Himbury secured the victory.
Stockport Coach Matthew Bebbington: It was a good first half and we looked in control, but it was a poor second half.
“It’s obviously a repeat of a number of other games this year, but it’s not because of our size, physicality or fitness; its rugby intelligence.
“It’s not kicking the ball off the park in the 22. Our first ruck from kick return was abysmal today and we didn’t get quick ball.
“We also gave easy territory away. If any team are in your 22 for a prolonged period of time you’re going to get penalties against you or tries and that was down to a lack of patience in defence.

Huddersfield 24-17 Caldy
Other than third placed Harrogate, Huddersfield are currently have the best form in the league as they made it four wins from four in 2015 on Saturday at home to Caldy.  The home side put on a great performance for the fans at Lockwood Park as they turned around a 12 point half-time deficit to secure the win. Caldy lead 17-5 at the break, but tries from Austen Thompson, Tom Hodson and captain Nick Sharpe turned the game on its head and continued Field’s impressive run of form.  Caldy forward Derek Sailsbury was injured in the warm-up which was a major blow for the Cheshire outfit.
Caldy Head Coach Simon Verbickas: “This is a match we could have won if we had been able to play Degsy. But when you lose such a powerful forward before the game even starts the odds are heavily stacked against you. Huddersfield were able to bring more forward power off the bench and in the very heavy conditions we just ran out of steam in the final quarter.”

Luctonians 21-40 Otley
Otley ran in six tries against the Luctonians to end their two game losing streak. Thomas O’Donnell James White, Sam Cook, Jack Mackie, Henry Roberts and Freddie Watson all went over to give Otley a much needed win. They stay sixth with this victory and it’s all about how high they can finish in the table now to try and better last season. As for the Luctonians, they were just a converted try behind Otley at half-time, but couldn’t keep up the pressure as Otley raced to victory.

Preston Grasshoppers 21-6 Sedgley Park
This was a great team performance from the Grasshoppers as they picked up this impressive win over local rivals Sedgley Park. There win was built around a solid performance from the pack and a superb defence. The Hoppers were also able to control the ball for long periods in the game to stop the inevitable threat from Sedgley Park.  As for Sedge, they needed to finish better when they had the chances.
Preston Head Coach Garth Dew: “That’s a massive win for us today. The attitude of the lads at training has been first class and they are gaining confidence. We went to Ampthill thinking we could get something and I was really confident about getting a result today.” The pack were excellent again. I thought Jack Banks was outstanding and being able to move Ali Murray into the back row adds some real bulk. We were very physical and able to counter ruck and did a great job at the breakdown. Again the lads off the bench had a real impact and it’s great to be able to rotate our props to good effect.”
“We probably could have scored more and really put them to the sword, we took our tries with some nice interplay, especially the second one which Scott Jordan did brilliantly to create and I thought that was a very professional performance.”

Leicester Lions 29-25 Birmingham and Solihull
Leicester Lions ended a two game winless run as they edged out Birmingham and Soilhull at Westleigh Park. The Lions secured their eighth home win of the season and are now just a point outside the top half. This was an important win for Leicester as the teams around them all picked up victories. As for the Bees, they couldn’t capatalise on their win against Sedgley Park as they fell to their fourth away defeat of the season. The Bees are only five points clear of the relegation zone now so will be nervously looking over their shoulder as we enter the final stretch of the season.

Stourbridge 53-22 Hull
Stourbridge recorded a half century victory over Hull to win their first game in five matches. Stour were unstoppable in the first half and they had wrapped up the bonus point by the 21st minute. Gary Dipple scored a hat-trick while Drew Harper bagged a brace. Hull scored a bonus try at the end of the game as a reward for their sheer determination despite the score line, but this win for Stour shows that their squad is starting to come back together after a number of injuries throughout the season.

Round 21 Preview
Sedgley Park v Hull Ionians
Now they have got the biggest fixture of their season out of the way, Hull Ionians know that they must stay fully focused for their remaining 10 matches and if they avoid any hiccups, the title will be theirs. This weekend they face a tough task away at Sedgley Park. The I’s have lost just twice in 35 National League Two North matches and they do currently have the best away record in the league.
As for Sedgley, it has been their inconsistent form which has let them down and they now find themselves nine points off the top four places. The Tigers have won just three of their last eight matches, but have won seven games at home this season. Sedge lost 29-18 at Brantingham Park in October.

Ampthill and District v Chester
Ampthill return home this weekend now hoping that Hull Ionians slip up in the final third of this season. They know it is their only chance of winning the title, but they must do their own job in order for that to happen. This weekend they host Chester and Ampthill will be looking for their fourth win in six matches and their 11th home win of the season. Along with Hull Ionians, Ampthill are the only other side in the division with a 100 per cent home record.
In terms of Chester, they have had a very decent start to 2015. Despite their 27-22 defeat to Hull, they have won three games in a row now and are starting to find their early season form again. They have won just four times on the road this season and haven’t won back to back away matches since November. Chester did also beat Ampthill 15-13 at Hare Lane earlier in the season.

Stockport v Harrogate
Harrogate were denied the opportunity to extend their winning run to eight matches last weekend due to the weather but will have the chance this weekend when they travel to bottom club Stockport. Harrogate have lost just once in their last 11 games, but have won just four games away from home this season. Despite that stat, they are very much the form side in the league.
As for Stockport, they are 28 points from safety and have one win to their name all season which did come at home. They have had so many injury troubles which certainly has played its part in their tough season back in Level Four of rugby. That was on show last time the two sides met when Harrogate won 59-14 in October and Stockport had three forwards starting their backs. This will be another tough ask for Stockport at Headlands Road on Saturday.

Caldy v Leicester Lions
Caldy have had a troubled start to 2015 with just one win since the turn of the year. They ended 2014 with just one defeat in eight games, but they just haven’t been able to continue that form. They have only been beaten once at Paton Field all season which means it could well be difficult for Leicester Lions to get anything from their trip to the Wirral on Saturday.
The Lions picked up a much needed win at home to Birmingham and Solihull last weekend and will be looking for only their third away win of the season on Saturday. Leicester have won just three of their last five games, but did beat Caldy 33-19 earlier in the season.

Otley v Stourbridge
Like Leicester Lions, both of these sides picked up wins last weekend after a dip in form. Otley came away from the Luctonians with their first win in two matches whilst Stourbridge thumped Hull to end a four game losing streak. Otley have won three of their last six games and have won seven matches at home this season including a win against Hull Ionians.
In terms of Stour, their season is finally starting to get going – which I am sure is much later than planned – due to players returning from injury and some new signings coming into the side to help bolster the squad. That was on show for all to see against Hull and they will be hoping they can build on that win on Saturday. Stour have won just three times away from home this season and lost 23-37 to Otley back in October.

Hull v Huddersfield
Two years ago Huddersfield finished bottom of this division with 13 points and now in 2015, they are in a wonderful position to stay at this level of rugby. Four straight wins since the beginning of the month as seen them move into the top half and now they go to Hull looking to end January with a 100 per cent record. Field have only won three times away from home all season.
As for Hull, their win against the Luctonians two weeks ago seems a distant memory after a tough afternoon at Stourbridge last Saturday. Hull currently sit in the final relegation place, but a bonus point win this weekend, could see them move out of the bottom three on Saturday if other results go their way. Hull have won two of their last five matches which both came at home. Huddersfield won 26-11 in the reverse fixture between the sides in October.

Birmingham and Solihull v Preston Grasshoppers
For me, this is a massive game for both of these sides because with a win they can pull further away from the relegation zone, but with a defeat, they are certainly in a fight for survival. Preston have had a good few weeks with wins against Stockport and Sedgley Park and a superb display at Ampthill so will be confident when they travel to the Midlands on Saturday.
In terms of Birmingham and Solihull, they have not had a good start to 2015. With just one win to their name, they have been dragged further into this relegation scrap and are now just five points clear of the drop zone. A win would see them move ahead of the Grasshoppers, but they have only won once at Portway all season. The Bees did edge out Preston 19-20 at Lightfoot Green in October.

Broadstreet v Luctonians
Frustratingly for Broadstreet, due to them missing out on 80 minutes of rugby last weekend, they are now edging back into this relegation battle. They are eight points clear of the bottom three, but have that all important  game in hand to come. Broadstreet have won two of their last five games and have won four times at home this season as they prepare to face the Luctonians this weekend.
As for the Luctonians, they have been on the end of two heavy defeats in as many weeks and it won’t get any easier for them this Saturday. They have won two of their last five games, but have won just once away from all season. The Herford based side are only five points from safety so need to start picking up points on the road to stand a chance of staying in this division. The Luctonians did win 31-22 in this fixture earlier in the season.

National League Rugby