Who will survive in National Two North?

Sale FC v Stourbridge
Sale FC beat Stourbridge last weekend to give them a real boost in their fight against relegation
©Sale FC

After Macclesfield clinched the National Two North title last Saturday, the spotlight is now firmly on the relegation battle with five teams still in danger of being relegated to National Three.

There is only one spot in the bottom three remaining though after we waved goodbye to Huddersfield and Broadstreet and that place is currently being occupied by Sale FC. They are only in the drip zone because they have won fewer games than Sandal who are level on points with Sale in the final safety position on the table. Another twist in the plot is that Sale do have a game in hand over Sandal, but that fixture doesn’t come until May.

Above those two sides sit Chester who are five points clear of the drop with South Leicester and Tynedale just ahead of the Cheshire side. But, the main focus is on Sale FC and Sandal who both have tricky fixtures this weekend and they know a victory would be massive in the race for survival.

Away from the bottom and to the play-off spot which is where Sedgley Park find themselves. They are nine points clear of their nearest promotion rivals and know just two points from their match on Saturday would set-up a National Two play-off with the Old Albanian in May.

Sale FC v Macclesfield

Sale FC are fighting for survival at the bottom of the National Two North table this season. Currently, they are occupying one of the relegation places, but their battle against the drop was boosted last week with a sensational win away at Stourbridge. Sale are level on points with Sandal and are only in the bottom three on ‘Games Won.’ Added to that, they also have a game in hand over their relegation rivals.

Having picked up that impressive victory over high-flying Stourbridge, a home win here now isn’t out of the question. Sale have performed well at Heywood Road this term winning seven of their 14 matches and with this being their final home fixture of the season, they will be eager to upset the odds and end their home campaign on a high.

Macclesfield have had a terrific couple of weeks. After relegation from National One last season, many people who follow this division were expecting the Cheshire club to immediately bounce back this term and Giles Heagerty's men have done exactly that.

Having seen their first XV and second XV win their respective league titles over the last nine days, Macc went on to clinch the Cheshire Cup on Tuesday night with victory over Caldy to complete a treble winning season for the Blues. There is no doubt they will want to end this campaign strongly and won’t be gifting Sale anything this weekend when they take the short trip to Manchester.

Sedgley Park v Preston Grasshoppers

Sedgley Park have enjoyed another very strong season and are looking in good shape to claim the play-off place this term. The Tigers can now only finish as high as second place following Macclesfield’s title win six days ago, but that will still give the club the chance to have a shot at National One should they manage it.

A 34-19 win over Caldy last time out put a minor dent in their play-off hopes as they currently sit nine points clear of their promotion rivals. Sedge also have a game in hand, but they know if they are able to pick up two points or more from this fixture against the Preston Grasshoppers, second spot will be theirs.

Preston Grasshoppers have had a mixed season. Garth Dew has built a very talented side at Lightfoot Green, but some dips in form throughout the campaign have restricted his team from moving up to that next level and as a result, they look set to finish this term in mid-table.

Arguably, that is a positive for the Hoppers considering they stayed in this division on the final day of last season so progression is certainly evident. A win last weekend against Huddersfield secured their place in National Two North for next year and in fact, that was their third win in the last five games. They have put together a good run of results heading into their penultimate game of the season and they will be hoping to continue that this Saturday.

Leicester Lions v South Leicester

Since losing two games on the spin a few weeks ago, Leicester Lions have returned to their winning ways. The Lions picked up victories over Preston Grasshoppers and Broadstreet which has seen them move into the top three of National Two North heading into this derby match with South Leicester this weekend.

Leicester Lions have to be elated with the season they have had. After being in danger of relegation on the final day of last season, the men from Westleigh Park have not looked back. They have surprised everyone this term and thoroughly deserve to be where they are in the table. Added to that, they boast the best home record in the league having lost just one of their 14 matches on home soil this season. There would be no better way for them to end their home campaign by beating their near neighbours.

It has been a tough season for South Leicester. Having won the National Three Midlands title 12 months ago, South have been battling the drop for most of this campaign. However, a recent turnaround in form as seen them move away from the relegation zone and now they are in touching distance of survival.

Currently, South sit 11th in the table and six points clear of the relegation zone. They know if Sandal and Sale FC fail to pick up any points from their fixtures this weekend, then South will be plying their trade in National Two North next term. South head into this fixture having lost just two of their last seven matches and a bonus point win at Westleigh Park would be enough to confirm their safety.

Luctonians v Stourbridge

It has been quite a season for the Luctonians. At the start of the campaign, the Lucts were wallowing in the bottom three and there were no signs that they could dig themselves out of trouble, but that all changed in November of last year.

After victory over Broadstreet, the Herefordshire club have gone on a run of 10 wins from their last 16 matches which has propelled them up to eighth in the table with their sights now potentially set on a top six finish. Alex Davidson will be proud of the way his side have performed against stronger sides this season and will be hoping for more of the same this weekend.

Stourbridge’s season has been a strong one. After struggling to break into the top half last year due to injuries and other factors, the Midlands club have looked back to their best this season as they find themselves fourth in the table having put up a strong challenge for the play-off spot this campaign.

With focus perhaps now on building for next term, it’s hardly surprising that Stour slipped to defeat against relegation-threatened Sale FC last weekend, but with Leicester Lions now taking over from them in third spot, the men from Stourton Park need to bounce back with victory here.

Chester v Caldy

This time last season, both of these teams had been battling to finish in the top three. Twelve months on and both sides have had contrasting fortunes this term.  For the hosts Chester, it has been a disappointing season. After finishing fifth last year, Chester have been languishing in the bottom half of the table for most of this campaign and they now sit 12th in the league and worryingly, aren’t safe from the drop just yet.

A lack of consistency has really held the Cheshire club back this term with just 11 wins from their 28 games played so far. They do welcome Caldy to Hare Lane on the back of an encouraging display against Macclesfield last week, but with just two wins from their last eight games, something needs to change fast for Chester otherwise it could prove costly.

Caldy were certainly tipped to challenge for promotion once again this season and although they’ve been on the cusp of the play-off spot for the majority of the campaign, the Wirral sides’ dream of a National One place faded away and now they are looking ahead to next season.

It is clear they do possess the quality and having manged five wins from their last six games highlights this very point. However, there have been short spurts of bad form for Caldy which has cost them a shot at the third tier. But, they will travel the short distance to Chester on Saturday looking to continue their excellent recent form as they aim for a top three finish.

Sandal v Otley

Sandal’s recent poor form appeared to be dragging them further into a relegation dogfight in National Two North. However, victory over South Leicester and a draw against Tynedale last weekend has boosted their chances of staying in this division and now they sit outside the bottom three on ‘Games Won’ having played one game more than 14th place Sale FC.

Prior to those encouraging results, Sandal had lost 11 of their last 12 games which had seen them fall from a top six position all the way down into the drop zone. It really has been a rollercoaster season for a side that won the National Three play-off last term, so they will be hoping that there are no more twists and turns as they look to end the season as strongly as possible.

Followers of National Two North may have suspected that Otley would have another strong season at this level of English rugby. Having been in this division for the past five years, the men from Cross Green have once again had another solid campaign, but are in danger of ending the season in the same way as they did 12 months ago.

Having seemingly looked nailed on for a top six finish last year, Otley won just one of their last six matches and finished the campaign in ninth place. Currently, the Yorkshire side are sixth in the table, but they are on a run of just one win from their last four matches. They will be itching to end that run here and for history not to repeat itself.

Harrogate v Tynedale

After an inconsistent start to the season, Harrogate are competing in the top half of the National Two North table once again. ‘Gate are still in with a chance of finishing in the top six as they are hot on the heels of Otley following their best spell of form of this season.

An away defeat to South Leicester aside, the Yorkshire outfit have looked in good form of late having won five of their last eight matches. Harrogate certainly have the capabilities of challenging further up the table (as we saw last season) so a home win here will only help them further of achieving that aim in the 2016/17 season.

Tynedale’s season has been another disappointing one following relegation from National One last year. Tyne sit in 10th place and at the start of the season, I believed the north-east side were one of the favourites for promotion. However, with huge flood damage to their pitches and clubhouse and a change of coach, they have struggled to really gain consistency in National Two North.

Tyne are eight points clear of the relegation zone so three points or more from this fixture at Rudding Lane would confirm their safety in the fourth tier of English rugby. Arguably, they are in their best form of the season heading to Yorkshire having lost just one of their last five matches and if they keep that going, it will be more than enough for them to start building for a stronger campaign next term.

Huddersfield v Broadstreet

Huddersfield already know their fate for this season in National Two North. After defeat to Caldy two weeks ago, it was confirmed that the Yorkshire side were relegated to National Three after a two year stay in the fourth tier of English rugby. Added to that, they also will now finish bottom of this division following their loss to Preston Grasshoppers six days ago.

It has been a disappointing season for ‘Field. Although they finished eighth last season which highlights that they can compete higher up the table in this division, they suffered long winless runs this term. In fact, they have won just six games all season, five of which have come at Lockwood Park, so they may fancy adding to that this Saturday.

Like Huddersfield, Broadstreet have followed a similar path which has led to them also being relegated from National Two North. The Midlands club exceeded expectations by finishing seventh last season, but they failed to capitalise on that and now they will be plying their trade back in National Three next term.

Their demotion was confirmed last week following a 36-14 defeat at home to Leicester Lions and they will also now finish 15th in the table. ‘Street travel to Yorkshire having won one of their last five games and just two matches on the road all season so can they earn the win here to end a torrid campaign on a high?

National League Rugby