The Sapphire Series reaches its fourth instalment, and it’s getting close to crunch time across the four conferences as teams seek to lock up playoff spots!
Indeed, we’re hearing news out of the Northern half of Division Two that this weekend’s tournament, only their second of the season, will in fact be the penultimate outing for these three teams – their third set of fixtures initially scheduled for February 16th being scratched from the slate following the withdrawal of Peterborough ahead of the series getting underway. Scratch that – we’ve since learned BAFA have secured a venue for the 16th, sharing the D2 South venue to ensure these guys get four outings!
The only conference not in action this Saturday is Division Two South, who’ll return to action later in February.
With it all to play for, we’ll see eleven fixtures across three venues this Saturday – can any teams seal the deal on postseason action?
Division One North
Hopes are we’ll see the Derby Braves return to action this weekend, following their injury struggles meaning they missed out in Week Three. If so, we’ll see four outfits who’ve all had at least a small taste of victory so far this series descend on Edinburgh this Saturday!
Given the form of teams so far, the first round of fixtures will serve as something of an appetiser for the particularly tasty matchups that follow, as we saw the two powerhouse programmes of the North take on teams they’ve each already bested in convincing fashion so far this season.
The as-yet-undefeated Edinburgh Wolves will kick off the day against fellow Scots, the East Kilbride Pirates. When these two teams met back in Week One the Wolves appeared to make short work of the Pirates – but fresh off their first sevens win in Week Three, reports are this much-improved Pirates squad could prove a much tougher test in this second meeting!
On the other field we’ll see the similarly unblemished Leeds Chargers look to keep their incredible momentum going, squaring off against a Derby Braves team that have got two games under their belts so far this series. Leeds will obviously be coming in hot favourites, but having conceded their first points of the series against the Pirates a fortnight ago might the Braves be able to find some cracks to exploit in the Chargers’ formidable defence?
As we noted though, it’s the second round fixtures that are the headliners for this tournament!
Derby will be eager to lift themselves off the bottom of the conference following their lack of fixtures leaving them lagging behind, meanwhile with Derby looking vulnerable the Pirates will feel this is a perfect opportunity to build on their Week Three victory with a second notch on their belt!
Finally, the marquis matchup of the day will see two undefeated outfits go head-to-head as the Wolves and Chargers, who’ve somehow managed to avoid each other up to this point, clash for the first time this series!
Which proud programme’s win streak will come crashing to a close?
Whichever way it goes, look for the other team to be out to settle the score with all the marbles on the line in Week Five!
Division One South
With the Dreadnoughts withdrawing ahead of Week Three, the four remaining D1 South teams take a trip to Birmingham this Saturday as the reigning champs host the Steelers, Tornadoes and Warriors.
With Hertfordshire and Sandwell both playing catch up having each only picked up the one win so far this season, both these sides will be looking to up their game this weekend if they’re to sneak their way into some postseason action – each outfit most likely needing to win out from here if they want to extend their season.
Pending the schedule staying true, odds are we’re looking at a slate of fixtures not dissimilar to those in the North – a first round of fixtures with some clear favourites, followed by a second set of showdowns that really draw the eye!
The Birmingham Lions open their day against a Hertfordshire Tornadoes team they made short work of in Weeks One and Two, while the London Warriors take on the Sandwell Steelers for a third time this series. Though the Warriors have emerged confident victors on both occasions, there was a notable improvement in the Steelers performance in the second meeting – Sandwell will be hoping to close this gap even further on Saturday.
The key games, however, are the other set of pairings – Lions v Warriors and Steelers v Tornadoes.
In the case of Herts and Sandwell it’ll be the first meeting between these two outfits this year, and based on the form so far this series, this clash will go a long way to deciding which team slots into the #3 spot in the south come season-close. They’ve each had fairly similar results so far – wins over Portsmouth, but losses to Brum and London. This should be a hard-fought game, with a rematch just a fortnight later!
Finally, the Lions and London will meet for their third
of four regular series showdown s, and if the meetings between these two so far have taught us anything? Both sides will leave it all on the field.
London took the first meeting with an impressively aggressive performance, but the Lions bit back in the second leg, in part thanks to some veteran reinforcements returning to the roster.
With rumblings that some of the Dreadnoughts players may have swollen the Warriors ranks following the withdrawal of their team, might we see the pendulum swing back again on Saturday?
Division Two North
And finally we get a second peek at the Northern half of Division Two, having only had to opportunity to see these three outfits in action the once so far this series!
New kids on the block, the Birmingham Lions B, emerged as frontrunners from the first tournament, following a strong second-half performance against Teesside, and an awarded win over the Bears caused by a travel botch-up.
As such, this Birmingham rookie roster will come into tournament two with a target on its back as their two rivals look to displace them from the top spot. Comparative veterans, the Teesside Steelers, will be looking for greater consistency in their performance, while hosts the Cheshire Bears hungrily seek their first win of the Series.
Having had a lengthy break since their last league meetings back in mid-December, we’re hoping all three rosters come into Saturday hale and healthy and we’ll get a real opportunity for all three outfits to show their full potential!
With their Feb 16 meeting now scratched, this now means they’ll all only get one more shot at one another after this… and therefore, for the Lions, there’s the potential for them to seal the deal on the #1 seeding out of the North if they can move to a perfect 4-0 record! Will we see our first Sapphire Series 18/19 Coronation?
With the February 16th meeting now back on, sharing a venue with D2 South, it’s all still to play for! Indeed, Week Five in Div Two should be something of a football extravaganza for the lower half of Sapphire!
Contrary to our earlier thoughts, no one’ll be locking up a conference title just yet – but who’ll hold all the chips going into the second half of the series following this weekend’s results?