It’s ALL about the Prem North this weekend (we probably need to make a new cover image for premiership predictions) as for the second straight season the Northern half of the top tier have dominated the first round of the postseason!
The bracketing used in the top tier means we weren’t sure what matchups we’d see this weekend, but as it happens they’ve created a pretty interesting pair of games…
Durham Saints (N1) v Leeds Beckett Carnegie (N3)
Can anyone stop the Saints’ march to #Redemption? They’ve appeared unstoppable so far this year, as their great combo of a talented coaching staff, strong player development, and elite scholarship players has allowed them to handily sweep their way to a prem North title that was denied them last season.
Though we didn’t actually get to see the Saints in action last weekend due to Portsmouth’s withdrawal, the Saints dominated in all statistical categories during the regular season, with the #1 offence in the North and #1 D in the top tier – by a significant margin!
While there’s always a lot of attention paid to their imported scholars, it’s notable that even following the departure of their starting QB ahead of the end of the season, the Saints made short work of their closest rivals in the North, the Clansmen, rounding out the season with a 30-0 win over Stirling.
That said, if anyone’s going to trip the Saints up ahead of the Finals, perhaps Carnegie are the side to do so?
They have a proven history of being giant slayers and underdogs supreme, especially in the postseason. Just last year, the unexpected Division One champs lost twice during the regular season to Sheffield Hallam, only to best them in the playoffs on their road to an emphatic National Trophy victory.
Leeds have already far surpassed any expectations of them this year, finishing 4-4 on the year, and overcoming a midseason slump to secure top tier balling for a second year – the first promotee to the Prem North to do so. Add on to this, they made short work of the Hurricanes last weekend, Carnegie controlling the line of scrimmage with Herts only really getting into the game in garbage time.
Are the BUCS team thinking the wunderdogs might be able to pull off a shock this weekend?
Stirling Clansmen (N2) v Derby Braves (N4)
It feels like history might be repeating itself, and these two programmes meet at this stage of the postseason for a second straight season – the Clansmen edging the Braves 27-21 in the 16/17 semi-finals, foreshadowing two hard-fought meetings between the two teams this year to boot.
Both programmes will have been disappointed with the seasons they produced – the Clan’s 4-4 record only just giving them home-seeding through the postseason, and while Derby managed a nice turnaround from their 0-4 start to the season, they’ll still have been frustrated to finish as the fourth seed from the north.
The seeding earned them a trip to the Lion’s den for a second year in a row, a daunting prospect for many a team… But the Braves were more than up to the task of tackling the Prem South Champions. In spite of our BUCS office’s apparent short memories (opting 9 to 1 in favour of the southern side), the Braves shut down the #1 offence in the South, holding Brum to a mere 9 points and completing the North’s sweep of the south.
Sunday, they’ll look to repeat the feat of their Week Eight nailbiter against Stirling, where they defeated the reigning champs in triple overtime, and advance to their first ever Championship Final.
Of course, the Clan aren’t about to relinquish their hold on the BUAFL Neil Reynolds Trophy easily! (Yes, we still use a BUAFL trophy, ~five years later, and, yes, it is named the Neil Reynolds Trophy).
The top scots side have a habit of truly finding their form once the postseason gets underway, and it’s worth remembering they took their third National Championship in four seasons last year despite having suffered three regular season defeats.
They leapt out to a fast start against the Titans last weekend, and while they may have briefly let Swansea back into the game during the second quarter, ended up putting in one of their most convincing performances of the season so far as they dominated the second half to take a 40-14 victory.
With their biggest offensive performance of the season coming when it matters most, the Clan have a good amount of wind in their sales… But will also be all too aware that the Braves bested them the last time these two teams met.
We’re expecting a pretty close split from the team on this one…