Some of the Premiership teams are starting to pull ahead of the crowd as we’re left with just two undefeated teams, each topping one of the Premiership conferences.
Stirling Clansmen v Derby Braves
We start with what is probably the most intriguing match-up of the weekend.
Stirling currently occupy the Premier North’s second seed spot, but have been far from their usual convincing selves in 2016/17. Two of their three wins have come over relegation favourites, NTU, while the other was a 12-6 overtime triumph over Loughborough.
So, are the Clan actually any good this campaign? We’re not exactly convinced, but they have ground out enough wins so far to be in pole position to host a play-off game come season’s end, and even in their losses have certainly been competitive.
The fly in the ointment for the Scotsmen is Derby, who shocked the league with an opening day win over the Clan before returning to a far more pedestrian pace with losses to Loughborough and Durham.
While they did push the Saints closer than any team has done so far, their patch form has left them in the same situation at Stirling, with nobody knowing quite how to gauge them. In real terms, this game could decide the fate of the second northern seed for the play-offs.
A Stirling win would put them in a comfy position, but a W for the Braves would give them both the same record and a solid head-to-head lead. Too tight to call with any certainty, but we’ll opt for Derby to win.
Loughborough Students vs NTU Renegades
We’re going to flip reverse this prediction to get the shock out of the way – NTU to win.
Why? What have DC been smoking? Nothing, but we have had a sip of the Renegades Kool Aid.
NTU once again pushed hard but couldn’t quite get over the line against Stirling… Like, literally. There was at one point an eight play goal line stand from the Clan!
But we feel that it’s time the Renegades are due a break – particularly against a Loughborough side that are trending down post Christmas after Durham placed the conference’s first Fifty Burger of the season on them last weekend.
Games between these two have traditionally been close affairs, and – based on little more than gut feeling given the teams’ converging form patterns – this should be the Renegades’ best remaining chance to break their Premier duck.
NTU to edge it, finally.
A rematch of Week One, the Birmingham Lions now host the Kingston Cougars in conference that’s now beginning to really heat up.
The last time these two teams met the Lions ran out victors, leading 30 to 13 when the full time whistle went. Since then they have hit a few speed bumps in the road in the form of the Bath Killer Bees and the Hertfordshire Hurricanes. However, following back to back wins against the Swansea Titans they now seem to be finding their rhythm in the run up to the playoffs.
The Cougars are in a dog fight at the opposite end of the table, currently sitting fourth with a 1-3 record. They desperately need to find another W from somewhere or risk the real possibility of relegation from the premiership if they lose out in their return fixture against a Bath Killer Bees team that ran them close last time around. There is no doubt that they are a squad full of athletes, however, mistakes and an over-reliance on stand-outs players have been holding them back so far this year.
The Lions will take the winning streak to three on the bounce on Sunday.
Birmingham to win.
Bath Killer Bees vs Swansea Titans
I’m calling it now, its unofficially official, the Bath Killer Bees have the worst offence in the premiership. Through five games they only have 33 points for and they can thank the defence/special teams for a chunk of those. For Bath to stand any chance of claiming the W in this match up they will need the D to make another epic stand, ala XpLosION, and halt the Swansea offence from running away with this one too early. A win is vital now or Bath will become our favourites to be relegated.
The Titans are starting to forget what winning feels like – their 26-0 routing of Bath on the 27 November feel like an awfully long time ago. Since then Swansea have lost back to back fixtures to the National Champion Birmingham Lions (and had a lovely drive to Hertfordshire for an unplanned training session…). They will need to get back to winning ways this weekend if they want any chance of confirming themselves a home fixture in the playoffs.
The Titans should have the offensive fire power to claim the win here, however, with the Bees coming off their first long rest and prep of the season, a Bath win wouldn’t shock us.
Swansea to win.