Sure, playing under the big stands of Sixways Stadium is nice and all… but let’s be clear, it’s this weekend’s fixtures that are ones that REALLY matter in Div One.
The National Trophy showdown next weekend has some nice BUCS points attached and all, but it’s promotion to the top tier that teams will be playing for on Sunday, so expect each outfit to leave it all on the field.
University of Nottingham (1) vs Edinburgh Napier Knights (2)
Most teams that make the jump from the bottom to the middle tier are happy just to stay afloat in their first season out of the basement… So for the Knights to find themselves playing for promotion in a second straight season on Sunday is nothing short of astounding!
However, let’s jump right in with some qualifiers here.
Look, the Knights are a cracking team. They boasted one of the top defences in the tier throughout the season, and their 1A North is far from a cushy conference. However, the conference crown and #2 seeding were rather a surprise, even to the Knights themselves, who finished their campaign 5-3 following a 10-0 loss to Northumbria to round out the regular season, and instead were reliant on scores elsewhere and the bizarre BUCS voiding saga to see the Scots side elevated to a #2 seeding.
Since then, their postseason action has been… well, absent. The Beast from the East killed the majority of Div One postseason fixtures a fortnight ago, and the weather continued to plague the most northern middle-tier contender last weekend, leading to a second-straight walkover for the Knights, this time over Sheffield.
Sure, some may be envious of Edinburgh’s cushy route to this promotion playoff game, but if you ask the Knights themselves? They’re far from thrilled to be heading into the most important game in the programme’s history having not played in three weeks, and not won in a month.
Especially when you consider their upcoming opponents were already preseason favourites for promotion, and have just completed their most dominant campaign to date!
Nottingham have looked unstoppable all season long, and earned their shot at promotion with a third straight victory over local rivals and former top-tier contenders, NTU, last weekend. They head to their second straight shot at top tier balling… because lest we forget, Notts were in this position last season, too, before a final seconds two-point conversion consigned them to yet another year of middle tier balling!
They’ve ‘choked’ before, do the team see Notts falling at the final hurdle again?
Kent Falcons (1) v UWE Bullets (3)
Two teams that scraped through to this promotion-showdown by the skin of their teeth, you can’t say the battle for promotion in the south hasn’t been competitive!
For the Falcons, once more trailing for the majority of their fixture with familiar rivals, UEA, it took a flagged-off Pirates pick six and a late converted score to give Kent a 7-6 lead they clung on to for the win! With 10 straight wins under their wings, the Falcons are flying high and eager to test themselves in top tier balling next year.
Similarly, the Bullets’ shot at promotion came thanks to some fourth-quarter heroics in a back and forth game against a Kingston side that were eager to return right back to the top tier following relegation last season.
While they may not be able to boast an undefeated season like the Falcons, the fact is the Bullets haven’t lost a fixture since December and have proven their resilience by piling their way through a packed schedule this side of Christmas, and (outside of their huge blowout win over Plymouth) consistently finding ways to take narrow wins in tough circumstances.
With the Falcons boasting some elite individual talent, and UWE’s scholarship programme begining to pay dividends, odds are both these programmes are more than capable of holding their own in the top tier… So who do our BUCS office believe is about to make that leap?