Relegation battles top of the agenda across the National Leagues

South Leicester
South Leicester take on Sale FC which could be a crucial game in the race for survival in National Two North
©South Leicester

We are now in the second round of reserve fixtures across the National Leagues and it is safe to say that survival seems to take centre stage across the eight games taking place this weekend.

In National One, both Blaydon and Loughborough Students currently sit outside the drop zone and a win for either side will certainly ease their relegation worries when the sides clash in the north-east this Saturday.

In National Two North, the same applies to Sale FC and South Leicester when the sides meet at Heywood Road while the Luctonians and Tynedale will be looking to distance themselves from the bottom three with away wins.

As for the promotion race in the National Leagues, Macclesfield will be looking to increase their advantage at the top of National Two North while Sedgley Park will be doing their upmost to claw themselves back into the play-off place.

In National Two South, the Old Albanian face a tricky trip to Redruth as they aim to close the gap on league leaders Cambridge while Taunton will be hoping to find a route back into the fight for the play-offs.

National One

Blaydon v Loughborough Students

Blaydon have started to climb away from the relegation zone. Having been in and around the bottom three for most of the National One campaign, the north-east club are for now, looking safe from the drop.

Recent form has obviously played a big part in their steady rise out of the relegation places. Blaydon have won three of their last four games with their only defeat in that period coming against Fylde. They are currently 12th in the table and nine points clear of the bottom three and a win against their relegation rivals Loughborough Students this weekend, would only strengthen their position away from the drop zone.

Loughborough Students, prior to last Saturday’s clash with Wharfedale, were in real danger of being dragged into the bottom three. Students had lost four games on the spin following a narrow 19-21 loss to Ampthill and District, but that win in Yorkshire last week was the boost so they so desperately needed.

Added to that, Wharfedale are the side directly below Loughborough in the final relegation place in the table so the victory for Students meant that they are now six points clear of the drop with this game in hand still to play. Another win here will see them leapfrog Blaydon into 12th and ease their relegation worries further.

National Two North

Preston Grasshoppers v Macclesfield

Preston Grasshoppers have certainly improved as a side since last season. They stayed up on the final day of the campaign, but this year, they are well clear of danger as things stand. They sit ninth in the table and are eight points ahead of the relegation zone.

Garth Dew’s men had gone on a seven match unbeaten run up until three weeks ago, but defeats against Leicester Lions, Otley and the Luctonians has halted the Hoppers’ charge up the table. Preston have shown they do have the quality to pick up good results this season and they’ll have to be at their very best when Macclesfield visit Lightfoot Green on Saturday.

Macclesfield are fighting for promotion back to National One after relegation last term. In fact, their fight may well be coming to an early conclusion as Giles Hegarty’s side sit 15 points clear at the top with three games in hand. The disappointment of dropping down to the fourth tier of English rugby now seems a distant memory.

Their battle for the league title has been made easier in recent weeks with nearest rivals Sedgley Park suffering back to back defeats. Last weekend’s game against Harrogate was postponed but Macc are currently on an impressive five game winning streak and regardless of the result in Lancashire this weekend, the Blues will still be at the summit.

Sedgley Park v Otley

Sedgley Park are yet again in a race for promotion this season. The Tigers are currently fourth in the table and after finishing in one place higher last term, they now have their sights on going one step further as they look to progress up to National One.

However, recent form has been an issue for Sedge and two defeats on the spin has left their title challenge in pieces. Their focus now needs to be on wrestling second spot back off Stourbridge and that starts with this game in hand against Otley. Sedge are just three points off Stour so a win will take them back into that play-off place.

Otley currently sit sixth in the National Two North table and are looking fairly comfortable as things stand. Having veered off towards the end of the 2014/15 season, the men from Cross Green are now setting their sights on a top six finish and their current form suggests they are more than capable of achieving that.

An impressive run of four wins from their last five games leaves them four points clear of seventh placed Harrogate and with a Sedgley side that has suffered some tough losses and injuries in recent weeks to come this weekend, Otley may well fancy their chances of extending their good sequence of results.

Harrogate v Luctonians

Harrogate remain in the top half of the table in National Two North. As things stand, ‘Gate are seventh in the league as they continue to go through their best run of form for the season. The Yorkshire side have won their last four matches and now they are looking to end the campaign strongly.

It has been a mixed season for Harrogate who finished in the top four last term, but impressive wins in recent weeks as shown that they can produce the sort of form which we saw for the majority of the last campaign. They will be aiming for a seventh home win of the season on Saturday as they look to stretch their unbeaten run.

Another side going through a purple patch of form is the Luctonians. Their remarkable turnaround in fortunes has lifted them out of the relegation zone and currently they have won eight of their last 11 games ahead of their trip to Ruddling Lane this weekend.

As a result of this burst of form, the Lucts now sit a point clear of the bottom three, but they will be very keen to not undo their hard work as they look to widen that gap further. With two sides directly below them taking on each other this Saturday, another win here for the Luctonians could be the key one which keeps them in National Two North.

Chester v Tynedale

The word ‘patchy’ could be used to describe Chester’s form since the beginning of this campaign. The Cheshire side, who finished fifth last season, have been solidly mid-table all term and they have struggled to replicate their form from last year.

Chester currently occupy eighth place in the table and are unlikely to be dragged into a relegation battle with them sitting nine points clear of the drop. With that in mind, they can afford to focus on finishing their final seven games of the season strongly starting with this home fixture against Tynedale.

Tynedale’s season has been even more disappointing than Chester’s. Despite relegation from National One and being considered as a candidate for an immediate return to the third tier of English rugby, Tyne’s recent form has been less than impressive and the club are still not out of trouble just yet.

They currently sit second bottom of the form table having lost four of their last five games and are now just a point and a place clear of the relegation zone in the actual league standings. Scott Lawson’s men desperately need a win here and may fancy their chances against a Chester side that have only won four of their 12 home games this term.

Sale FC v South Leicester

Sale FC are in need of a victory on Saturday afternoon. Last week’s defeat to Leicester Lions saw Sale drop into the bottom three for the first time this season in National Two North and now they seem to be in a battle with South Leicester, the Luctonians and Tyndale to escape the drop zone.

Sale do know that their home form has been very good this year having lost just four of their 12games played at Heywood Road. They will need to recapture that winning mentality this weekend as they look to dig themselves out of trouble.

This fixture is also huge for South Leicester. Having being promoted as National Three Midlands champions last season, South now find themselves in a fight for survival in the fourth their of English rugby heading into the final weeks of the campaign.

South currently sit 11th in the table and are just two points clear of the bottom three. A massive win at home against Tynedale at Welford Road last weekend has slightly eased the pressure and if they were to back that up with victory in Manchester on Saturday, it would be a huge step on their way to confirming their safety in National Two North.

National Two South

Redruth v Old Albanian

Redruth are going very well in National Two South this year. Despite finishing ninth last season in what was a very disjointed campaign in terms of the results, the Reds find themselves in fourth place at this stage, with 11 points separating them from an unlikely play-off place.

An excellent run of form, combined with teams above them dropping points, has seen the men from the Recreation Ground move up into the top four thanks to seven league wins from their last eight games. This fixture against the Old Albanian will be tough for Redruth – that have lost just once at home all season - but if they play anything like they did against Taunton last Saturday, they will be in with a very good chance of victory.

The Old Albanian are certainly in a good position for an immediate return to National One. The fight for the National Two South title has mainly being a two-way race between the OA’s and Cambridge, but the crown looks to be going to Volac Park instead of St Albans with Cambridge currently leading the way by 11 points.

The OA’s have been made to battle hard to stay in this race for the title and promotion. They looked down and out after three straight defeats against Cambridge, Bishops Stortford and Chinnor. However, a thumping win over Canterbury last Saturday means another bonus point win this weekend would leave them just six points off the top with six games remaining, but more importantly, it would give them 13 point cushion ahead of their promotion rivals.

Taunton Titans v Launceston

Taunton Titans’ assault on the National Two South promotion race this season has been derailed in the last few weeks. At one point, the Titans were well in the mix for the title let alone a play-off place, but now Taunton find themselves 14 points behind the Old Albanian – who occupy that play-off positon.

Defeats to Chinnor, Cambridge and Redruth have been massively damaging for Taunton, but the men from Hyde Park will undoubtedly see this home fixture against already relegated Launceston as the perfect opportunity to bounce back with a win and end a two games losing streak on their own patch.

Launceston’s chances of staying in National Two South were over a long time ago. Their fate was sealed with an away defeat with Southend Saxons last Saturday meaning they were relegated to National Three with seven games left to play.

Launceston have lost 22 of their 23 fixtures so far this season and will be looking to take some pride from their remaining fixtures by claiming a maiden win before the campaign comes to an end. Taunton isn’t the ideal place for Launceston to go an achieve that, but with the hosts reeling after recent defeats, it could be a good opportunity for them to pick up that first win.