In line with feedback, we’re changing things up a bit this year in how we do our Uniball predictions. One thing we continue to receive feedback on is the inconsistency of the depth and quality of predictions between one conference and the next, due to the available time and ability of the writers that cover each group of teams, and how much information is made available to them.
To that end we’re going to shake things up this year and rather than attempting to cover all games with as much detail as possible with the resources available, we’re instead going to focus on particular stand out ‘Games of the Week’ – looking more closely at anywhere between one to three games, spread across the tiers, focusing on those games that perhaps looks particularly tasty and we can go into greater detail in the coverage of.
In Division One we take a closer look at two teams that have built themselves quite a rivalry in recent seasons, as the Falcons continue to fly just a short step ahead of the impressive UEA Pirates, both teams so far proving a cut above the rest of their conference.
They square off in Week Four, each coming into the game undefeated through their opening two fixtures…
Let’s meet the teams:
Though they entered the leagues more than 20 years ago, the Falcons are a team that’s particularly taken flight in recent seasons.
Hailing from the old South East Conference (SEC), the Falcons spent many a year in the shadow of Hertfordshire Hurricanes – strong seasons would oft be tarnished by heavy defeats at the hands of Herts, and so it wasn’t perhaps until the introduction of the BUCS tiers system that the Falcons were really given a chance to spread their wings.
They’ve come into the 18/19 season off the back of their strongest run on form in the history of the team: they’ve not suffered a losing record since the introduction of the tiers, saw postseason action for each of the last three years, and capped off their rise up the Britball ladder last year with an undefeated 1A South East conference championship – the first in the team’s history!
Though they came up short of promotion, lacking the firepower to match the UWE Bullets last spring, the Falcons have continued to impress coming into the new campaign – opening their year with an emphatic victory in Week One, 78-0 over the Imperial Immortals.
They followed this up with a more modest victory over local rivals, Canterbury. Perhaps coming into the game overconfident after their big opening-day win, the Falcons fell behind early, but showed great poise in re-finding their form in the second half to take the game 12-21 having at one point trailed by two scores.
Club president Taylor Monaghan emphasises that this strong start to the season has come from a strong drive within the team to live up to the standard they set for themselves last year:
“So far, the season has gone really well, we feel strong as a unit and ready for the duration of the season. I would say in both our games we have had stand out points, whether that be putting up 78 points in our opener, or coming back in the 3rd and 4th to beat Canterbury in our last match, there is definitely a real drive in the team at the moment and a want to win.”
However, Head Coach Russell Jordan, the former London Blitz and GB Lions star who took on the Head Coach role in a somewhat controversial transition ahead of the club’s highly successful 17/18 campaign, believes the team still need a bit more grass under their cleats to know where they stand at this early point in the season.
“It’s hard to really evaluate where we are after only two games. We keeping working to improve every week and this year our big focus is moving away from the ‘Xs and Os’ and rather concentrating on the ‘Jimmys and Joes’.”
Looking ahead to this weekend’s game, and judging by the form from recent seasons, it’s fair to say the Falcons are likely facing their stiffest test of the season so far, against a UEA side that pressed them hard each time the teams met last year.
Even so, Monaghan emphasised that the Falcons are treating this game as ‘business as usual’:
“We are feeling confident going into Saturday but also very aware of how strong of a squad UEA are and have been in previous years and are looking forward to the fixture. We have not anything special or particular to prepare for this fixture, its business as usual as we have just been doing our thing in the build-up to the game.”
Ones to Watch
When it came to finding ballers the Britball Nation need to keep an eye out for, both Coach and President were coy about naming any names.
“We preach team effort at Kent, so there’s no individual that needs highlights at this point.”
shared Coach Jordan, while Monaghan emphasised that, in contrast to most teams highlighting their offensive playmakers, the Falcons have built their foundation on an outstanding defence:
“Overall, I would say that our defence Is the strongest I’ve ever seen it. Scoring at least 21 of the 78 points put up against imperial, followed by four safties in the Canterbury game allowed us to bring in 8 of the 21 points for the victory. It’s a very veteran squad with a large amount of versatility.”
Able to maintain a significant portion of their roster over the offseason, the team boast a large cohort of third-year players, and veterans staying on to do postgrad courses, as the return of standout defensive lineman Emmanuel Bonsu from a year away.
Two games into their 31st campaign as a team, the UEA Pirates are a programme that may not have much silverware in their trophy cabinet, but can boast a venerable history of being consistently competitive in a tough football region.
Similarly to the Falcons, the Pirates have spent much of the last 20 years living in the shadow of the Hertfordshire Hurricanes. Best we can tell, they won their sole conference title in 1996/97, before the Hurricanes had truly gotten going, and since then only really got much wind in their sails with the introduction of the tiers system, where they’ve regularly been in the mix for postseason action.
Last season saw a culmination of the team’s development, as they put in their strongest showing for some time – coming within a couple of scores of displacing the Falcons from the top of the conference.
A 6-2 season saw them qualify for the playoffs, and a walkover win due to the adverse weather gave them a third attempt at shooting down the Falcons when the two teams met in the Quarter Finals… but more on that later!
Following on from their strong outing last season, the Pirates have kicked off their 2018/19 with a swift start, taking comfortable wins over newcomers, the QMBL Vipers, as well as a hefty victory over the Immortals.
However, Head Coach Nathan Evans has been perhaps more impressed by his players’ attitudes coming into this season, as by their performances on the field thus far:
“While it’s great to be sitting at 2-0, we’re probably most impressed by our players’ approach and attitude to those games. They’ve shown us a lot on the field already, playing to a high standard with good discipline, and have really well executed our game plan. Of course, we still have an awful lot we need our guys to work on, but we’re definitely proud of their efforts so far.
A real highlight for us at this early point in the year has been being able to inch enough of a lead to allow our rookies decent playing time. They’re improving week on week in practices, but, as I’m sure every coach will agree, nothing compares to real-game experience for accelerating performance.”
And Club President Connor Kennedy emphasised that their opening victories are just the first steps as the team aspires to an undefeated campaign:
“The season has gone as anticipated so far, but as we work towards the ultimate goal of an 8-0 result, we’re ensuring we stay disciplined at training and treat each game with just as much importance as the last. We have a lot of faith in our offence and defence as the best in the conference, so training against one another should ensure we’re prepared for anything.”
Feeling that they missed out by the smallest of margins against the Falcons last season, the Pirates are approaching this game excited at another opportunity to displace the favourites from the top spot in the conference, as Coach Evans shared:
“We’re really excited about the challenge that Kent presents. They’re a top team, well coached and will likely be pushing for post-season football, just as we are. That being said, we’ve been preparing for this game as thoroughly as we would for any other. Our coaching team have been reviewing film, game planning, and making sure to focus on ourselves, rather than too much on how the opposition have performed. We’re confident that with our players and coaches ongoing efforts, we can have our team ready to be their best this Sunday.”
Ones To Watch
Though the team emphasised their belief that all eleven players on the field make any big plays happen, there are a few standout ballers that can be highlighted on the Pirates’ crew.
Defensive Back Michael Johnson lead the team in interceptions last year as a rookie, and seems to be displaying even stronger form so far this season, kicking off the year with two interceptions against the Vipers.
On the other side of the football, Coach Evans emphasised that the Pirates feel confident in their ability to move the ball both on the ground, and in the air:
“Offensively, we have a strong group of RBs who all carry the ball well, and we tend to spread the ball around among our receivers. However another 2nd year, Ed Thorns, would be one to watch among them; he has 2 TD catches this year and leads the team in receiving yards.
Overall, this is possibly the strongest team we’ve had at UEA since I have been HC. We have a hard-working, dedicated team, with difference-makers on both sides of the ball. The team have worked really hard throughout preseason and their first couple of games, and as a coaching team we couldn’t be happier with their progress and potential.”
When last they met…
As mentioned above, these two outfits have gotten very familiar with one another over the years – and perhaps no season more so than in 17/18 where they met three times between regular season and post.
As was, the Falcons emerged on top in each of the three fixtures, though with an ever-decreasing margin of victory as they took the first game by eight points, the second by six, and the final climactic playoff game by a single digit!
In both the latter two fixtures the Kent side were actually behind for the bulk of the four quarters, and clutch scores in the closing minutes were necessary to keep the Falcons airborne!
We’re hoping for just as tense a showdown when the two teams meet this weekend…
But who’s winning this one?
The Falcons are riding a six-game winning streak over UEA coming into this one… But can the Norwich-based underdogs sail to victory on this occasion?
Let us know your thoughts on who’s taking the W this weekend, and in the meantime we asked our BUCS office to make their pick of who’ll win this South East showdown – Open the spoiler tab to reveal their choice!
Predictions for all BUCS fixtures are also incoming, they’ll just be in a simpler, pick’em style format this season.