2A South West
By Lydon Ward-Best
Bristol Barracuda v Bath Spa Bulldogs
So here we go.
Cuda would have come into this season with high hopes after the Blitz were promoted but the now fierce Panthers and stampeding Stags have occupied the upper slots.
Scoring points has been the main issue for the Bristol boys, though a strong showing from their defence in their varsity matchup vs Division One’s UWE shows there is hope to pick up some more wins before the season is out, so long as the offence can find a spark.
The Bulldogs are still riding an ever-lengthening losing streak (though their friendly-fixture win versus Falmouth will have boosted morale somewhat).
The same lack-of-depth issues keep coming up, but Bath Spa keep plugging along. Frustratingly for the Bulldogs, and though Hollywood might imply otherwise, heart and pride alone aren’t enough to win football games.
While we didn’t spot it for this week’s ITSET article, playoffs are now beyond the Bristol side, though they’ll save some face with a much-needed win to round out their season.
OBU Panthers v Gloucestershire Gladiators
This has the makings of an old fashioned slobber knocker.
Two teams playing physical football and both eager for a win to keep playoff, or even promotion-, hopes alive!
For OBU it’s the chance to stay perfect and keep pace with the Stags – maybe climb a few spots in the Power Rankings after feeling they’re not being given the credit they’re due for reaching this stage of the season with their record unblemished. Win this Sunday and they’ll be going to ‘State’.
Certainly, the Panthers are coming into this one with some great momentum following a comfortable Cavalier Cup win last weekend.
However, if the Glads rumble out a win they are right back into second place, and ready to pounce should the Stags falter in their remaining two fixtures. They looked comfortable, if not exactly flashy, in their win over Bournemouth, and will be most likely playing with a chip on their shoulder, knowing their prospects for promotion are out of their own hands once again.
The Glads need to win this to make progress from last year but the Panthers have more momentum off the back of their win over local rivals.
Clear eyes, full hearts, Glads lose.
Southampton Stags v Bournemouth Bobcats
So a relatively short journey for a SW fixture this week, featuring two teams that while certainly southern, are debateably westerly. The conference-leading Stags descend upon their next target and they’ll certainly be well rested, having not seen action since before the break. They’ll be confident coming into this one, what with the Bobcats yet to pick up a win on the year, but at the same time need to be careful to ensure they’ve shaken off all the rust that comes from nearly two months without any balling.
Facing them, the Bobcats may come into this as extreme undercats, undefeated versus winless, but the it’s worth noting that Bournemouth have made an annual habit of claiming a surprise scalp. With no wins on the year so far, we obviously haven’t seen it yet and considering the Stags struggled vs Cuda ahead of Christmas, could this be the week where the kitties claw up their first W of the campaign?
Well… probably not. The Stags will want to take the conference undefeated and although Coach Anderson’s boys should put up a solid resistance if the Stags offence is still not putting in its best showing, the reality is the Bobcats own anaemic offence is unlikely to be able to keep them in this game..
Stags take it.
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RHUL Bears v BNU Buccaneers
RHUL take a walkover win against BNU this week and move one step closer to their playoff-aspiration… though uneven scheduling may yet play a part in scuppering those hopes.
2A South East
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ARU Rhinos v Greenwich Mariners
Well… Where the hell did that come from?
The Rhinos certainly turned some heads last weekend when the previously winless ARU side snuck a single-score win over the, at-the-time, conference-topping UEL Phoenix!
In fairness to the Rhinos, they typically seem to pick up one shut-out win each year, at least for the past couple of seasons anyhow, but we definitely weren’t expecting it against a UEL team that seemed to be on the downhill path to promotion!
Might the surprise victory be the start of a turnaround for the Rhinos? Well, certainly playoffs are not beyond them. While the win wasn’t enough to snag the head-to-head over UEL were they to win out a 4-4 season could yet see them earn a 3rd place berth – especially considering the other two southern conferences only have six fixtures to work with, compared to the eight for the 2A South East sides.
Of course, the same also holds true for Greenwich, who’ll have taken some definite positives from their only post-xmas outing, in keeping the conference-leading Vipers well in check.
The Mariners certainly got the better of the Rhinos last time around, in their only multi-touchdown performance of the year so far… and so while it’s tempting to think the Rhino’s momentum from last week’s shock win could set them on a rampage right to the postseason? We’re gonna back the Mariners to sail to victory in this one in a low-scoring affair.
UEL Phoenix v Essex Blades
We suspect the Phoenix don’t have any medical students on the team… else they might have been able to stop themselves from choking last weekend!
We jest of course, and feel the Phoenix who’ll be absolutely gutted with last weekend’s result and its potential impact. They’d done the hard part, overturning the conference-leading Vipers to claim the head to head, and it appeared their path to first-ever conference championship looked fairly clear… But no.
In fairness, the signs were there from the week before, where a solitary field goal was the difference maker in a low-scoring affair against the Essex Blades. The UEL defence has impressed all year along, but you can’t win ANY games if you don’t score any points.
Still, the title is not completely beyond their grasp, and they can still hope for the Rhinos to play upsetters once more when ARU take on the Vipers next week, so long as the Phoenix themselves win out the rest of the season…
Which might be easier said than done against an Essex side that’s smelling blood in the water.
Essex made a real game of it last Sunday against the Vipers, but in the end couldn’t quite keep pace. Still, their offensive output was a massive step up from the week before, and if they can continue that momentum into this weekend’s game? The Blades will be very aware that the #2 spot in the conference might be theirs for the taking if they go just 2 points further than they managed in their last meeting with UEL and win while also poaching the head-to-head.
With the Phoenix’s flame on offence flickering, we think the Blades have a real shot at slicing their way into a playoff berth with a win this weekend that kickstarts a strong end to the season for the Essex side.