With four games left to go of the National Two North season, Macclesfield may well be crowned this weekend as they prepare to take on second placed Sedgley Park away from home.
There are only two outcomes from this fixture though. The first is Macclesfield win the league and the second is the title race rumbles on for another week. There is no scenario where Sedgley can win the championship this weekend, but they will be doing their upmost to ensure that it doesn’t happen in their own back yard.
Away from the title race, Stourbridge and Leicester Lions will be hoping Sedgley drop points this Saturday to reignite their play-off hopes while down at the bottom, it is a big weekend for a number of teams including Huddersfield, who can be relegated if they lose to Caldy.
Elsewhere, Sandal v South Leicester and Chester v Sale FC are two crucial fixtures that could go a long way in deciding who stays up and who goes down in National Two North while the Luctonians and Tynedale will be hoping to edge themselves further away from the relegation battle.
Sedgley Park v Macclesfield
Sedgley Park have performed to the level many expected them to this season. They have had ambitions of reaching National One for the last couple of seasons, but this time around, it looks as though they will get that shot at the third tier of English rugby.
Sedge have been in and around the top two places for the majority of the campaign and they may still believe that they are in a title race. Currently, they sit in second place with a 17 point gap separating themselves and the league leaders Macclesfield. However, more importantly for Sedge, is the fact that they are 12 points clear of their promotion rivals with a game in hand, so the play-off place is now almost secured for the men from Park Lane.
Macclesfield are on course for an instant return to National One this season. Having kept faith in their principles following their relegation last term, the Blues look set to profit from their style of play as they currently sit top of National Two North.
Macc do look unstoppable at the moment. Giles Heagerty has led his team on an impressive nine game unbeaten run and they have already guaranteed a top two finish. But, what is key about this weekend's fixture is that Macclesfield could be crowned champions. Macc’s only home defeat this season came against Sedgley Park back in November, so to win the title on Sedge;s own patch could be very satisfying for the Blues.
So, this is how Macc can win the league on Saturday: If Macclesfield were able to pick up a bonus point win on and restrict Sedge to just a point, then they would win the league. Also, if Macclesfield were to win the game and Sedge failed to pick up a point, that would also be enough for Macclesfield to win the title.
TRU’s Alex Hannah caught up with both teams ahead of this clash at Park Lane:
Sedgley Park Head Coach Dean Schofield:
“There’s a lot of chat about bragging rights, and we’re coming in from a good victory at Priory Park, which I’m sure Macc will be wanting to hit back at us for.
“We’ve got to treat this like any other game. They’re top of the league and been more consistent than us, the figures tell you that, so I think we go into this as underdogs.
“It’s a big game and we’ve got nothing to lose. The pressure is on Macc to go out there and confirm their place at the top. We’ve just got to concentrate on our game, and hopefully the result will speak for itself.”
Macclesfield Head Coach Giles Heagerty:
“The manner of that performance [against Sedgley] is something we talk a lot about, but if you start worrying about revenge it can have a negative impact, it’s a big game and there’s lots of rivalry, there’s potentially a lot hanging on it, but this is the game where the big players step up.
We’ve deliberately rested some people last week so we have everyone as fresh as we can going into this weekend.”
Otley v Stourbridge
Otley have pushed hard to cement a place in the top six in National Two North this season. After falling away towards the end of last season, the men from Cross Green have had to perform to ensure history doesn't repeat itself and currently they are just about doing that.
As it stands, The Yorkshire club sit sixth in the table having won four of their last seven games, but their recent good form has slipped in in the last two weeks as they prepare to take on Stourbridge this weekend. Otley have lost their last two games so they will be hoping to return to winning ways at Cross Green this Saturday.
Stourbridge have enjoyed a fine season this term after an injury hit campaign last year. After finishing in the bottom half of the table 12 months ago, the Midlands based club look back to their best and are on course to end this season in the top three, two years after they finished runners-up in this division.
Having moved five points clear of fourth placed Leicester Lions, Stourbridge come into this away match in great form as they have won four of their last five games. Another victory this weekend would not only strengthen their top three ambitions, but also set up a good platform for a serious promotion challenge next term.
Leicester Lions v Preston Grasshoppers
Leicester Lions are battling hard to finish in the top four this season. If they weren't to achieve this aim, then I doubt it would spoil the fantastic campaign which they have had. Despite staying up on the final day of the last term, the Lions are looking good to finish towards the right end of the table this year.
They may well have even harboured promotion hopes up until last weekend when a defeat to Caldy pretty much ended their chances. However, just one defeat in 13 home games this season is the best record in the league, so they will be confident of getting a result at Westleigh Park on the weekend.
It has been a good season for the Preston Grasshoppers. A club that last year stayed in the division on the final day, finds itself mid-table this term which of course is an improvement. Garth Dew's men went on a run of seven games unbeaten at one stage this season which dispelled any thoughts of a relegation battle.
Furthermore, they picked up a very good win against Harrogate last weekend and travel to Midlands on the back of two wins from their last three games. Their task from these remaining four games is to maintain a top half finish so the Hoppers can use that as a springboard to aim for higher goals next season.
Huddersfield v Caldy
Huddersfield’s season really hasn’t gone according to plan. After finishing in the top half of the table in the last campaign, they have failed to build on that this term and they’re now set for relegation back down to National Three. In fact, anything less than a victory in this game will mean their fate will be sealed at Lockwood Park on Saturday afternoon.
The divisions’ bottom club have suffered four defeats in their last five games ahead of this home fixture against a strong Caldy outfit, so it looks unlikely that ‘Field can muster up only their seventh win of the season. If they were to achieve victory though, they could still be relegated this weekend if other results don’t go their way.
Caldy are on course for another top six finish in National Two North with four fixtures remaining of the season. At one point, the Wirral side were firmly in the mix for the play-off spot, but a lack of consistency when it mattered most led to them falling away from the race to National One and leaves them in fifth place at this stage.
Currently, they have a four point gap over Otley, but they are also just five points behind third placed Stourbridge so a top three finish is certainly not out of reach just yet. Caldy head to Yorkshire on the back of three wins from their last four games and will be confident of coming away with the points on Saturday.
Harrogate v Broadstreet
Harrogate are hoping to finish in the top half of the National Two North table again this season. After a disappointing start to this campaign, ‘Gate know that a top eight finish would represent a good achievement for the Yorkshire side, although they are only six points clear of ninth place Tynedale with just four weeks left of the season.
Last time out, Harrogate were beaten by a gutsy Preston Grasshoppers side at Lightfoot Green, but they had picked up wins against Caldy, South Leicester and Sale FC in previous weeks. Against a Broadstreet side fighting for their lives, the hosts will feel that they can return to winning ways this weekend.
Like Huddersfield, Broadstreet have been unable to build on the solid season which they had last year. The Midlands side finished seventh 12 months ago, but things haven’t worked as they would’ve hoped for this campaign as ‘Street currently occupy 15th place in the table with relegation now a distinct possibility.
A huge win against relegation rivals Sandal last weekend leaves Broadstreet eight points behind Sale FC who occupy the final safety spot above the drop zone. That win last week may spark a great escape for Broadstreet, but whatever happens this weekend they can’t be relegated. However, what is clear is that anything less than a win in Yorkshire could be the final nail in their National Two North coffin.
Luctonians v Tynedale
The Luctonians look as though they have now done enough to keep themselves away from the relegation zone this season. At the end of November, it looked like the Lucts would be embroiled in another relegation battle after staying up on the final day of the last campaign, but an incredible run of 10 wins from their last 15 games looks to have ensured the Herefordshire side a mid-table finish.
Director of Rugby Alex Davidson admitted before his side played Broadstreet that his team needed just two more wins to be sure of their safety. But since that fixture against the Midlands side, the Luctonians have not tasted victory. A surprise defeat to Huddersfield and a disappointing draw against South Leicester have followed that Broadstreet result, so the Lucts will want to bounce back this Saturday.
Tynedale have found life difficult in National Two North after their relegation from National One last year. Tyne were demoted for the first time in the club’s history 12 months ago and were expected to challenge towards the top this term, but instead, they have spent the majority of the campaign in the bottom half of the table.
At one stage, it looked like they were in a relegation dogfight, but the north-east side have hit form at just the right time. Three straight wins for Scott Lawson’s men leaves them ninth in the table and 10 points clear of the drop so confidence will be high when they travel to the Luctonians this weekend as they look to extend their recent good run.
Sandal v South Leicester
Sandal really have had a season of contrasting fortunes. After promotion via the National Three North play-off last term, the Yorkshire side began their time in the fourth tier of English rugby magnificently. However, over the last couple of month, things have gone wrong rapidly for Sandal and as such, they now find themselves in the relegation zone.
The last 12 games does not make pretty reading for Sandal. They have won just one match in that period of time – a run which stretches back to just before Christmas – and they are now two points from safety with four games left of the season. They are desperate for a win and with this fixture being against another relegation rival, this could be their best chance of ending their horrendous run of results.
South Leicester’s season hasn’t been as dramatic as Sandal’s. Having been promoted from National Three Midlands last term, the club have been trying to keep their heads above water and currently, the side from Welford Road are doing just that.
South occupy 11th place in the table after a run of just one defeat in their last five games. Wins against Tynedale and Preston Grasshoppers and draws against the Luctonians and Sale FC have seen the Midlands club move seven points clear of the drop. They are not safe just yet, but a victory here against Sandal (who sit in the final relegation place) would go a long way in securing their National Two status.
Chester v Sale FC
Having finished fifth last season Chester had high hopes for this campaign, but surprisingly, they have been less than impressive over the course of this term. At the start of the year, they were in the hat to challenge for promotion, but now they will be looking over their shoulder nervously at the relegation zone that is creeping nearer and nearer towards them.
With just two wins in their last nine National Two North matches, the Cheshire side now sit 12th in the table and only six points clear of the bottom three. They possess just a four point gap between themselves and their opponents this weekend, so this fixture really is a ‘must win’ for Chester.
Sale FC’s season following promotion via National Three North has been a tough one. As with any newly promoted side, they are expected to be fighting relegation for most of the season and as things stand that is certainly the case for the Manchester based side.
In truth, their relegation battle has only come about over the last few weeks as one win in their last five games leaves them sitting preciously above the bottom three. They are two points clear of Sandal, but they do have a game in hand which is scheduled for the first weekend of May. Sale won’t want to be relying on that fixture against the Luctonians to ensure their safety and a win this weekend would easy their relegation nerves greatly.