Preview | Sapphire Series 18/19 Week Two

The BAFA Sapphire Series, the full contact seven-a-side format of the British Women’s game, kicks off its second slate of fixtures this Saturday, with all four conferences in action and a host of ‘first-evers’ achieved!

We see the first ever women’s American Football games to be hosted in Wales as Division Two South are hosted by the Cardiff Valkyries this weekend, while D2 North will see the Cheshire Bears and Birmingham Lions B make their Sapphire Series Debuts!

Let’s take a whistlestop tour of what to expect from this weekend’s showdowns in each of the four conferences!

 

Division One North

Having had a bye through Week One, the Derby Braves will play host this Saturday, welcoming the East Kilbride Pirates, Manchester Titans and Edinburgh Wolves to the Midlands.

N.B. Apologies, since initial publication we’ve been informed the East Kilbride Pirates were forced with withdraw from this weekend’s tournament, due to injuries sustained in Week One. The schedule will be altered accordingly (per below). We wish the Pirates a safe and speedy return to action!

As late starters, Derby might not be coming into their home tournament with much momentum, but they do at least know which teams to watch out for. Having been disappointed with a 6th place finish nationally last year, along with only a single regular-series victory during their gruelling stint in the D1 South in 2018, the Braves will be well aware of the strong start to the series that the Edinburgh Wolves have had.

Edinburgh opened their account with big victories over the Pirates and Titans two weeks ago, their achievement only slightly overshadowed by the even larger scorelines produced by Leeds.

However, with the Chargers on a bye, the Wolves likely come into this Saturday hot favourites to continue their winning streak – though they’ll be wary, having taken a heavy loss the last time they met the Braves in last year’s playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Manchester Titans and East Kilbride Pirates will look to bounce back from a tough opening tournament, where both they and the Pirates struggled against the Chargers and Wolves. With the Pirates forced to withdraw, it remains to be seen if the games will either be awarded as walkovers, or simply struck from the schedule, but either way the Titans have a chance to edge ahead of East Kilbride on Saturday, and if they’ve patched some of the holes from a fortnight ago, might the Manchester side be able to battle their way back into contention in the North?

D1 North Fixtures Week Two (Updated):

  • Derby Braves v Manchester Titans
  • Edinburgh Wolves v Derby Braves
  • Edinburgh Wolves v Manchester Titans

 

Division One South

Disappointing news right out of the gate with this one I’m afraid, as the Portsmouth Dreadnoughts shared they will be unable to participate in this weekend’s tournament, hosted by the Hertfordshire Tornadoes.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining, and while we won’t see the Dreadnoughts enter the fray this Saturday, the resulting rejig to the schedule has allowed us to fast forward to what is perhaps the most anticipated showdown in the South, as we’ll now see the Birmingham Lions and London Warriors go head to head a tournament earlier than expected!

The day will kick off with a Sapphire classic, as hosts Herts take on the defending back-to-back-to-back(-to-back?) National Champions.

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Birmingham will, of course, be coming in as favourites, but it’s worth wondering whether their expansion to a B team this season will have any impact on their top tier team – might there be depth concerns as Britball’s #1 women’s outfit gets used to their two-pronged approach?

Should the Lions emerge from their tussle with the Tornadoes unscathed, round two will see them square off against the London Warriors, who came out of the gates fast two weeks ago with brutal shut-out victories over both the Tornadoes and the Sandwell Steelers!

Yet to allow a score on the year, games between the Lions and Warriors have traditionally been tough, defensively dominated affairs – the Warriors were one of only two teams to keep the Lions under 40 points last season, when they squared off in their 2018 season openers, and will be coming into this weekend’s fixtures with great momentum!

Finally, the day will wrap up with a second meeting for the series between the Tornadoes and London, with surely the Warriors hot favourites having already bested Herts in a shutout win once this series? Or can the Tornadoes find some new tricks to turn the previous 0-39 scoreline on its head?

D1 South Fixtures Week Two

  • Hertfordshire Tornadoes v Birmingham Lions
  • Birmingham Lions v London Warriors
  • Hertfordshire Tornadoes v London Warriors

 

Division Two North

Kicking off a little later than the rest of the conferences, Division Two North sees two new additions to the Series in the form of the Birmingham Lions B, and the Cheshire Bears. Following the withdrawal of the Peterborough Royals ahead of the season, we’re down to just three teams to duke it out in this conference.

The Lions brand, of course, will be familiar to all followers of the British game, but it was a bold statement of the programme’s belief in themselves as an organisation to be the first women’s Britball programme to step up and field two full contact football teams!

Building upon the astounding success of the Lions since the inception of the women’s game, it’s a great step forwards for the programme… but ultimately means we’re not entirely sure what to expect from them when they open against an experienced Teesside Steelers squad in game one!

Don’t be kidded into thinking these kitties will lack teeth, however, as while they may be carrying a number of rookie ballers, but they’re still part of the most successful programme in the women’s game!

Similarly, while it’s nominally a first venture into Sapphire for the Cheshire Bears, the core of the Bears hail from the Chester Romans women’s team, who broke out on their own to establish a Bears programme that have built an impressive looking brand in their build up to league action once again!

The erstwhile-Romans last competed in Sapphire in 2017 and with significant success – posting a 6-2 record in the D1 North&West, the only team at the time to take a win away from the otherwise undefeated Teesside Steelers.  As such, while we’re seeing a strong recruitment of rookies for the Bears, they’re no strangers to even seven-a-side football, even if they didn’t participate in the Series’ last iteration.

And finally from this trio of teams, hosts for Saturday’s tournament the Teesside Steelers might be, nominally, the more ‘established’ programme, but they’ll admit themselves they’re building back up from a disappointing 2018 campaign in the 2A North, where they picked up only the one victory. Having struggled with player numbers last season, they’ve worked hard to up their numbers coming into 2018/19 and will seek to once again establish themselves as contenders!

Given two ‘new’ outfits and one on the rebound? We’re not sure at all what to expect from this conference this series, but we’re looking forward to finding out!

D2 North Fixtures Week Two

  • Teesside Steelers v Birmingham Lions B
  • Cheshire Bears v Teesside Steelers
  • Birmingham Lions B v Cheshire Bears

 

Division Two South

As noted above, the Cardiff Valkyries will make history this Saturday by hosting the first ever women’s American Football fixtures in Wales!

More than that, we’re expecting the Valkyries to want to add even more celebration to the occasion, by putting up their first win of the season, having come up short in their openers in Week One.

Though they were well off the pace of the Wembley Stallions, a tense back and forth shoot-out with the Kent Exiles in their second fixture sets up a tasty-looking opener to Saturday’s tournament, as the Cardiff and Kent outfits square off once again!

If the Welsh side can sneak their first win here, it’ll give a great confidence boost to similarly take on the Stallions for a second tournament in a row, with Wembley coming into Week Two hot favourites for a southern title having looked dominant in Week One!

The Stallions earned their first win of the year in their home tourney, with a confident 6-30 win over the Valks, and then impressed even further when they bested the Oxford Saints 0-34 in the second round of games, especially after the Saints came into the game hot off the back of their own 32-0 win over the Exiles!

With their fixtures appearing to be the same as in tournament one (indeed, we’re wondering if we’re looking at an erroneous schedule given Week Twos fixtures appear to be a near-carbon copy of Week One, and Week Three doesn’t have any Oxford Saints fixtures at all…) expect the Stallions to come into Saturday deservedly confident!

Their opening game against the Oxford Saints should be one to watch, as considering the Saints’ strong against the Exiles start in Week One, we’re wondering whether they were carrying walking wounded by the time they took on the Stallions in their second game, and might prove more competitive at the second time of asking?

Finally, as noted above, look out for a great matchup between the Kent Exiles and hosts Cardiff, before the Exiles look to show distinct signs of improvement against the Saints.

A great stride forwards for Welsh football this Saturday, but will the Stallions also be taking a big stride out ahead of their competition in this conference when the dust settles on Saturday?

D2 South Week Two Fixtures

  • Cardiff Valkyries v Kent Exiles
  • Oxford Saints v Wembley Stallions
  • Cardiff Valkyries v Wembley Stallions
  • Oxford Saints v Kent Exiles

 

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Nick

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