2A South West
By Lydon Ward-Best
Oxford Lancers v Gloucestershire Gladiators
So here we go.
Both these teams will have come into the season with high hopes after Oxford made the slide down from Div One and the Glads saw the back of longtime rivals, the Blitz.
However, it simply hasn’t panned out that way for either team. Both sit mid-table at 2-2 with promotion off the cards and only a risky third place postseason berth left to fight for.
Coach Wilford’s boys at the Glads haven’t had the same offensive firepower we’d come to expect of them this year and in tougher games haven’t been able to grind it out – falling behind and unable to find the extra score necessary in narrow losses to the Stags and Panthers.
On the flip side, Coach Goldstein’s team were unlucky to be relegated last year, but have similarly been inconsistent in their ability to put up points so far this campaign. While they’re nominally the second-highest scoring team in the South West, the bulk of those come from a 76-0 rout of the Bulldogs. Against the true contenders topping out the table at 5-0? It’s been only a single score in each fixture from the Lancers.
This is going to be physical vs finesse with each team’s last chance for playoffs likely on the line.
The weather may play a part but I’m going for back to back losses against Oxford sides from the Glads. Lancers take it.
Bournemouth Bobcats v Bath Spa Bulldogs
We were really hoping this was going to be the step-up year for the Bobcats, as the only team to beat Plymouth last year in the regular season they seemed poised to take more scalps.
Despite coming close to upsetting the top-of-the-table Stags last weekend, this simply hasn’t panned out for the Bobcats as they currently sit winless at 0-4, resting at the bottom of the table alongside this week’s opponents, the Bulldogs.
As such, we know one thing for sure about this matchup – someone is going to be celebrating this weekend!
Bath Spa keep plugging every year, even with barely enough numbers to play and non-league wins against the likes of FXU show they’re willing and able to improve. However, with 0 points scored on the season so far, you can’t win any games if you can’t put up points.
Bobcats will break their streak while Bulldogs continue theirs.
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City Wolfpack v Chichester Spitfires
Panthers might have locked up the top spot in the South, but it’s all to play for behind them as even a 3-3 finish to the year might be enough to squeeze a playoff spot in the messy southern half of Division Two.
City sit at 2-2, half a game behind a possible third place berth and come into this weekend having had a week to lick their wounds following a narrow loss to RHUL.
The crucial factor in their season so far appears to be an offence that simply needs to start putting up more points if they’re going to really take a proper shot at the postseason – in three of their fixtures they’ve managed only a single score and that’s unlikely to cut the mustard as teams build momentum in the latter part of the season.
Opposing them, the Spitfires have only a single win on the season so far – and while they took a convincing 40 point victory over BNU in Week Five the issue is they haven’t really found paydirt since – a single safety their only score in their most recent two fixtures.
Whether it’s strong Ds or struggling Os this conference seems to be filled with low-scoring affairs and we’d expect more of the same in this one.
First team to a second score most likely takes it… And we’re gonne back the Wolfpack to take two on this occasion.
BNU Buccaneers 0-1 KCL Regents
KCL take a walkover win against BNU this week and move one step closer to their playoff-aspiration… leap-frogging UCL into second place in the conference.
2A South East
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QMBL Vipers v ARU Rhinos
UEL’s loss last weekend means it’s victory lap time for the Vipers!
They’re locked into promotion, postseason, and wearing their first crown in the young team’s history.
As such, one has to wonder whether they’ll choose to field a full-strength side against the recently-raucous Rhinos this weekend?
Win or lose they’ll be playing Div One ball next year, but at the same time there’s still seeding, and pride, to play for. A win essentially guarantees the Vipers the #1 seed in the postseason – seven wins more than any other southern conference champ has games on their slate.
Of course, taking that win might be easier said than done. As appears their habit this year, the Vipers barely edged past the Rhinos in the last meeting between the two, and in the meantime, the Anglian squad have started a little hot streak of their own – back to back shut-out wins against the pundits’ predictions over the Phoenix and Mariners.
Their sudden revival has shifted ARU from the bottom spot in the South, into sudden playoff contenders. The longer schedule in the South means four wins and a third-place berth could be enough to see playoffs – we believe a first for the Rhinos? So expect them to come into this one eager to keep their streak alive.
I honestly think the Rhinos stand a good shot here, but the determining factor may be that their two wins have ultimately come thanks to shutouts – the Rhinos themselves only managing a single score… And while the Vipers performances this year have been far from consistent, they’re yet to be shut out entirely all year.
Vipers find paydirt, take the narrow win and the #1 seed to boot.
Essex Blades v Greenwich Mariners
The Crown might be out of reach, but a nice win for the Blades against the Phoenix last weekend has put them right in the mix for playoffs. Their 18-7 win over UEL has snagged the head-to-head and means they can shift themselves into second place with a win against the Mariners on Sunday.
The key to the Blades positioning themselves in such a promising spot has been their offence looking a fair bit sharper in recent weeks – putting up three scores in their two most recent outings.
In a conference where the average offensive output across all five programmes is 13.1 points per game, finding that third score is a great way of cutting through the competition.
Indeed, this has been the problem for the Mariners so far in their campaign – unable to get enough wind in their sails to carry them to victory. They’ve suffered four shut-out losses on the year so far, but the one game they scored multiple touchdowns? A comfortable win over ARU.
Nominally, the Mariners are still in with an outside chance at the postseason… but it’d take something like a convoluted multi-directional tie at three wins-a-piece in the South East and the third placers in the South West and South not picking up four Ws.
As such, with a more obvious goal to play for and the sharper offence, we’re taking the Blades.