Regional Semi-Finals? National Quarter-Finals? Whatever way you shake it, normally by this point we have a previous round of fixtures for the team to look at in order to make their picks…
Sadly, that’s not the case this season, as we saw six of the eight final-sixteen fixtures scrubbed from the slate due to the weather last weekend, and the teams being unable to unanimously agree to push the season backwards a week.
As such, we saw walkovers galore, with only two of the eight teams taking to the gridiron this weekend having seen action last Sunday.
Nottingham University (N1) v NTU Renegades (N4)
One of the ‘villains’ of the most recent round of Uniball drama, Nottingham were one of two teams that openly rejected the push back. With a roster of players and coaches with summer league commitments in the UK and abroad, Notts have their eyes set on a Division One title they fell inches short of last season, and have no intentions of seeing a good chunk of their roster disappear before they get their hands on some silverware.
First however, they have a very familiar obstacle in their way – local rivals the NTU Renegades.
These two outfits have a storied history and one of the great rivalries of the British University game. Dropping down from the Prem North this past offseason, the Renegades have been perhaps the only threat to Notts dominance in the Midlands this year… but in fairness, even then the preseason promotion favourites made fairly short work off their cross-town contenders on both occasions during the regular season.
With Notts boasting the #1 offence in Uniball, things were at least a bit more competitive in the second meeting between these two teams, Trent holding ‘Yoonaf’ to their lowest offensive output of the season in the 21-6 second leg.
Don’t let their two losses on the year trick you – the Renegades are no slouches in 17/18. They took confident wins in all their other fixtures during the regular season, and while their offence perhaps lost a bit of momentum in the latter weeks of the season, they’ve proven capable of putting up points against all-comers.
The Renegades improved from a 33-0 loss to Notts in their first meeting, to a more closely contested 21-6 shortfall in the second meeting… Might it be third time lucky for NTU?
Edinburgh Napier Knights (N2) v Sheffield Sabres (N3)
Few, perhaps including the Knights themselves, would have expected to see the recently promoted Scotsmen in this position, but it just goes to show have effective a programme they’ve established in the Scottish capital – clearly paying dividends.
An incredibly confusing 1ANorth title race saw the new boys emerge on top with a third straight conference crown, and following their first ever Division One postseason fixture being awarded as a walkover, this weekend they host another outfit who were similarly bemused to find themselves wearing a crown when the dust settled from the regular season!
The Sabres benefitted from the BUCS fixture-voiding debacle, and assumed what was thought to be the UCLan Rams’ spot atop the 1A Yorkshire!
Even so, Sheffield come into this weekend’s game having proven themselves worthy of their title and honours, participating in one of the two postseason fixtures to take place last weekend and besting the Rams 19-0, even after graciously allowing the Rams to host the fixture. As such, they’ve got some great momentum as they make the trip north of the wall.
Meanwhile, Napier will likely have been frustrated to see last weekend’s fixture lost to the weather. They had rounded out their regular season with something of a bum note in a 10-0 loss to Northumbria, and might’ve seen a third fixture on the year against Hull, a team they bested twice during the regular season, as an opportunity to potentially regain some confidence.
Instead, it’s tough to know what to truly expect from the Knights this weekend. They’ve had a stalwart D all season long, but will the offence be productive enough to duel a Sabres outfit with a five-game win streak at their backs?
Kent Falcons (S1) v UEA Pirates (S4)
Another team hoping it might be third-time-lucky this weekend, as two conference rivals showdown on Sunday.
The Pirates head to Kent having fallen short on both occasions during the regular season, but neither meeting between the two sides was in anyway a one-sided affair.
Indeed, the last time the Pirates and Falcons fought, UEA held the lead for the majority of the fixture, before a momentum-swinging spate of turnovers in the second half allowed the Falcons to fly to victory.
Kent’s undefeated season owes a lot to the side boasting the #1 defence in the middle tier, allowing a mere 4.25 points per game during their regular season, and on both previous meetings between these two teams, doing an impressive job of scuppering the Pirates’ plundering offence that averaged 34 points a game outside of their Kent matchups, but only 12 and 10 points when facing the Falcons.
Kents’ offence is no slouch either, and found particular success on the ground in their last outing – one of the two playoff games that actually got played last weekend. Heading into the fourth quarter with a fairly narrow lead, the Falcons appeared to be trying to grind out the clock… but instead repeatedly ground their way into the endzone to finish the fixture with a far more convincing 30-7 scoreline!
With a couple of opportunistic turnovers being the difference maker the last time these two teams met, due the BUCS office believe it might be third time lucky for the Pirates?
Kingston Cougars (S2) v UWE Bullets (S3)
Two sides that had to fight right down to the wire for their conference titles, the Cougars and Bullets go head to head this weekend in what should be a terrific showdown between two programmes with great potential.
For the Cougars, they’re eager to return to the top tier, having narrowly fallen from grace during the offseason, while the Bullets have National Championship pedigree to live up to, and a blossoming scholarship programme that is aimed at returning them to the top of the British University game.
Both sides saw highs and lows to their regular season campaigns. Kingston had concerns they might miss out on their conference crown after a narrow loss to Brunel in Week Eight, but finished the season strong with big wins over Surrey, Sussex and Reading.
Meanwhile, Bristol fell to the Blitz in Week Five… But the Bullets returned to blow them apart with a 54 to diddly crushing of their closest rivals in Week Eleven – kicking off a crowded end to their season as they played three fixtures in eight days to secure their conference crown.
As such, it’s possible UWE were somewhat relieved to see the slate pushed by a week by the weather, and while they’ll be gutted to miss out on another contest with longtime rivals, Plymouth, expect the week off to give them a good chance to get healthy ahead of travelling to Kingston.
The Cougars have Premiership pedigree, but a healthy Bullets side have proven to have impressive firepower… Who do the team see emerging on top between these two 7-1 conference champs?