Durham Saints (N1) v Portsmouth Destroyers (S4)
Unable to safely put together a squad to make the trip, the Portsmouth Destroyers have been forced to forfeit this delayed fixture, and the Saints will advance to the semi-finals with an extra week of R&R under their belts.
As it happened, considering the fine form the Saints have displayed all season long, not even the most prolific ‘doggers on the DC panel (by which we, of course, mean correspondents with a preference to pick the underdogs) have plucked for Pompey this weekend:
Stirling Clansmen (N2) v Swansea Titans (S3)
One team that actually somewhat benefitted from the BUCS fixture purge to round out the year, the Clansmen might be somewhat buoyed to see their regular season finale, a 32-0 loss to the Saints, stripped from the record!
Even so, it’ll still be lodged in the memories of the players, and back to back losses to round out the regular season is hardly the way the reigning National Champs would want to hit the postseason.
Still, at times (particularly against Loughborough it seems) the Clan have shown flashes of their championship pedigree, and luckily, four wins on the year was still enough to secure a home berth in a messy and competitive Prem North.
As such, the Titans will have a loooong trip north of the wall if they wanted to upset the stakes and knock the defending champs out of action ahead of the semi-finals.
Similarly to Stirling, inconsistency seems to have been a key facet of Swansea’s season. They picked up some nice big wins, but fell short when it really counted. Opportunities to prove they’ve become true contenders in the Prem South were missed in narrow, single-score losses in both games against Herts, and a 28-20 defeat in their second outing against the Lions. Indeed, despite starting their season in spectacular style with a 48-22 win, we never really saw the Titans display that same form through the rest of their campaign and they rounded out the year with a nice shutout against Pompey, but a worryingly pedestrian 16 point performance from the offence.
As such, we see two teams headed to the postseason each having displayed great potential through the year, but having seen their form stumble as we reach the crunch time.
Which programme do the team think will have made best use of the extra week off to recover their form?
Birmingham Lions (S1) v Derby Braves (N4)
Despite opening their year with a blunder against the Titans, Birmingham have done a brilliant job of turning their campaign around. They hit postseason on the back of seven straight wins, and most importantly have proven their resilience and mental fortitude in their recent outings – particularly a HUGE fourth quarter comeback to round out the season and seal the deal on the conference crown in a crucial 34-27 victory over the Hurricanes in Week Twelve.
With a number of new faces in key roles, it was to be expected that there’d be some teething problems for the Lions this year, and there’s perhaps still some questions to be asked of their defence, that allowed the second most points in the Prem South this season.
However, when they’re playing to form they’ve proven almost impossible to keep out of the end zone, and that’s likely to prove crucial this postseason if the Lions have aspirations of returning to Championship form following the dominance of the Prem North in 16/17.
Making the relatively short trip to face them this weekend, the Braves have been something of a conundrum this season. They opened the year with three straight losses and seemed destined for the drop, only to turn things around following the Christmas break, with three wins from five.
Indeed, the only side they’ve lost to this side of the split is the Power Rankings-topping Saints, and even then both games have been highly competitive!
Will this strong form be reflected in the Team’s picks?
Hertfordshire Hurricanes v Leeds Beckett Carnegie
And finally we see the ‘Canes hosting Carnegie – Leeds becoming the first newcomer to the Prem North to survive a season in the top conference in Uniball, and looking to extend it by besting the five-time champions, Hertfordshire.
Certainly, if there’s a time to take on Herts, it’s likely following their heartbreaking loss to Birmingham, where the ‘Canes appeared to crumble in the fourth quarter and give up their grip on the Prem South crown.
While they’ve been a fairly consistent force on offence this season, and have shown resilience in a couple of key matchups against Swansea, both Herts losses this year came on big momentum-swing losses against Birmingham, and so they’ll be wary of letting their heads drop this weekend.
Travelling south to face them, Carnegie have already gone well beyond many’s expectations of them this season by simply surviving. When healthy and playing to form, they have a proven ability to disrupt the best-laid game plans with their clock-hungry offence.
Injuries and inconsistency saw a distinct slump in form from Leeds coming out of the Christmas break, but they rallied to round out the year with two nice wins and so may well be hitting the postseason with better momentum than their hosts… Do the team think that’ll be enough for Uniball’s #1 underdogs to keep on dogging their way to victory?