#Opal17 | Tournament 3 Preview and Finals Breakdown

The third instalment of the Opal Series 2017 gets underway this weekend – the final ‘regular season’ tournaments of the 2017 BAFA Women’s Flag Championship, determining which teams go where in the National Finals tournament of Opal, hosted once again in Sheffield, this December.

Before we take a peek at this weekend’s standout match ups, it’s worth first getting to grips with how the Finals will work this winter, so teams know what they’re playing for on Saturday!

Opal Series Finals Day Format

This year the Opal final is being divided into three parts, aimed at ensuring all teams in attendance can have a competitive afternoon of fixtures, and even allowing slots for teams to fit in some perhaps cross-conference friendly fixtures.

First up, we have the ‘Bronze’ tournament, a round robin series of games between the seventh ranked team in the North, and the seventh and eighth ranked teams in the south (the Southern Conference possessing one more roster than the Northern.). Each team will play two fixtures, with the results determining the 13-15th places in the national rankings.

Moving up a tier, we have the ‘Silver’ tournament. This is similarly a round robin format tourney, featuring the fifth and sixth place teams from both the Northern and Southern conferences. All teams will play three games and the outcomes will determine the 9th-12th spots in the National Rankings.

Finally, at the top, we have the Gold Tournament – an all-or-nothing knock out format competition building up to a national final, featuring the top four teams from each conference.

Teams will be in unfamiliar territory right from the outset, with the first round of fixtures featuring North vs South for all four quarter finals, first seeds playing fourth, seconds playing third, across the board.

All teams will play three fixtures, winners vs winners, losers vs losers, to determine the National Rankings from 8th, up to 1st.

Bearing this in mind, let’s take a look at this weekend’s fixtures and their possible ramifications!

Opal Series 2017, Northern Conference | Tournament Three

Coming into this third tournament, and given the information above? We already know a few things:

Locked in to Gold Tournament:

  • East Kilbride Pirates

In the hunt for Gold Tournament:

  • Sheffield Giants
  • Hallam Warriors
  • Chorley Buccaneers
  • Nottingham Gold
  • Hallam Rangers

Locked into at least Silver Tournament:

  • Sheffield Giants
  • Hallam Warriors
  • Chorley Buccaneers

The East Kilbride Pirates, perfect at 7-0 have already locked up a spot in the Gold tournament. Even were their ship to sink on their way to Opal 3, their seven wins means they can finish no worse than third in the North.

It’s all to play for at the other end of the table for the Nottingham Green squad however, as despite having yet to win a game so far this season, were they able to pick up two or three Ws from this weekend’s fixtures? There’s still a shot at Silver balling for the rookie UoN outfit.

Similarly, the middle of the table is up for grabs. The impressive Sheffield Giants are not yet secure in Gold tourney balling, though a single win from their four games on Saturday will lock them into the top four.

Alongside them, last year’s National Finalists, the Hallam Warriors, can concrete themselves into the top half of the table with a win over the Nottingham Gold team (or any two Ws).

Right on the cusp of their first chance at a National Final run, the Chorley Buccaneers currently sit in fourth, with their final three fixtures against sides they’ve already proven themselves against so far this series – the two Nottingham squads, and the expansion Hallam Rangers.

Photography (C) Samcrow Lee

With the three teams above them, Warriors, Pirates and Giants, each likely to take chunks off one another as they go head to head this weekend, if the Chorley ladies, who we took a closer look at earlier this week, play to form? Don’t be surprised to see them  sneak themselves into potentially an even higher ranking spot before the day is out!

That said, the big match up to watch out for is surely Game Two on Pitch One – as the Sheffield Giants and East Kilbride Pirates joust for the second time this year. The Pirates plucked the win by a single point the last time these two met in Tourney One, and so long as both sides avoid slip ups against other sides, the victor today has the very real chance of tying up the Northern Conference Crown!

Photography (C) Samcrow Lee
Opal Series 2017, Southern Conference | Tournament Three

Now to the south, where things shape up a little differently owing to the eight teams taking part, and a nine game schedule vs ten in the north.

First up, who’s definitely locked in where for Finals day?

Locked in to Gold Tournament:

  • Coventry Cougars
  • Hyde Park Renegades

In the hunt for Gold Tournament:

  • London Warriors
  • Coventry Cougars Youth
  • Wembley Stallions
  • Dreadnoughts Grey

Locked into at least Silver Tournament:

  • London Warriors
  • Coventry Cougars Youth

The reigning champions, the Coventry Cougars, might be guaranteed a chance to defend their title at the finals, but we don’t think that means they’ll take this weekend’s headline match up any less seriously – Game One, Pitch One on Saturday sees them take on the similarly undefeated Hyde Park Renegades, in a fixture that’s almost certainly going to seal the deal on the top seed in the South, and the Southern Conference Crown.

Photography (C) Mandy Keating

Looking for some help from other teams, the Portsmouth Dreadnoughts Grey squad are still, by our reckoning, mathematically capable of sneaking their way into the Gold Tournament… But they’re certainly going to be sailing against the tide! They’ll need to win out in this final tournament, including beating the Coventry Cougars Youth by at least 28 points, and relying on the CC Youth girls to not win any other fixture on Saturday.

Photography (C) Portsmouth Dreadnoughts

Still, a taste of Gold balling is still within reach for the ‘Noughts Grey, who’ll kick off their day with a derby against their sister squad, the Dreadnoughts Blue, in Game One on Pitch Two.

(N.B. Despite being tied with the Greys at 1-5, the Dreadnoughts Blues head-to-head losses against London and CC Youth mean they can’t quite make it to the Gold Tournament… at least… we think? Worth trying though, eh? :p )

It’s win and in for both the London Warriors and Coventry Cougars Youth, both at 4-2 with head to heads over the Wembley Stallions means a single win for either side locks them into at least Gold Tourney balling – and we know at least one of them will receive their Golden Ticket right out of the gate, as the two teams face off in their opening match up on Saturday – Game Two on Pitch One!

(Seriously, they’ve pulled off some nicely dramatic scheduling in this South this year!)

Finally, at the lower end of the Conference it’s still all to play for for the Iceni Spears, who while yet to pick up a victory, could yet poach a Silver Tournament spot if they steal two or three wins away from their final slate of games, and other results go their way. It’s going to be tough sledding, as they’ve got a rough batch of fixtures to round out their season, but if the Spears are on point they could yet avoid Bronze balling.

Check out our Opal Series 2017 page for full results and standings

Read this week’s ‘Band of Sisters’ article, to learn more about this Series’ surprise contenders, the Chorley Buccaneers.





Nick 'Willy Tee' Wilson-Town hails from the South West where he's spent the last decade bouncing around various teams at the university and senior level. He came to fame on the now departed unofficial forum thanks to his regularly irreverent Uniball predictions and general 'BUAFL wafflage'. Follow him on twitter @WillyTee1