This is it. In the blink of an eye, the 2018 Sapphire Series are already coming to an end. With the complete cancellation of Round 4, many teams who were hoping to improve their ranking, unfortunately, had to wave their hopes for a title goodbye.
|The North||Record||The South||Record|
|1st||Leeds Chargers||5-1-2||1st||Birmingham Lions||6-0-2|
|2nd||Manchester Titans||3-3-2||2nd||London Warriors||4-2-2|
|3rd||Edinburgh Wolves||2-4-2||3rd||Hertfordshire Tornadoes||3-3-2|
|4th||East Kilbride Pirates||0-6-2||4th||Derby Braves||1-5-2|
Gold Tournament Preview
By Céline Bisson
The top team in the North (Leeds) will play against the second best team in the South (London), whilst the top team in the South (Birmingham) will play the second best team in a North (Manchester) for a chance to access the final game, whilst the losing teams play for 3rd and 4th place.
It’s a strangely familiar situation for Birmingham and the host team, Manchester. Although they are yet to play each other this season, the Titans already faced the Lions in last year’s finals; the game ended 32-00 for the Lions.
Going into the cross-conference tournament three weeks ago, the Titans had only lost one game, and were having a successful campaign in the North. Their losses against two South teams (the Derby Braves and the Hertfordshire Tornadoes) revealed some struggles in the offence, an issue that Manchester needs to fix if they want to compete against the best defence in women’s football. If this season is anything to go by, expect Lions D-Line and MVP nominee Aimee Cottingham to seriously challenge Manchester’s O-Line (and quarterback).
However, Manchester’s run defence turned out to be hard to crack for their opponents: it will be interesting to see how Birmingham’s offence adapt. It is very likely that the Lions will rep their depth and rest their starters, like they did last year, but Birmingham’s rookies proved they weren’t to be underestimated with new talent on both sides of the ball: Ashleigh ‘Mash’ Aiston at running back and Ciara Pinnington at linebacker.
On the other side of the pitch, the London Warriors will be facing the Leeds Chargers. The Chargers faced the Warriors for the first time during the cross-conference tournament three weeks ago: the Northern powerhouse beat the dark horses 32-13 after a hard-fought battle.
The Chargers have proved that they have strong players they can rely on (QB Lucy Peaty and LB Bo Stewart, to name a few) whilst London established themselves as a contender with hard-hitting tacklers, an offence well-led by QB Chloé Bâton and strong players to fill their skills positions. The Warriors will be hoping to get their revenge and play in the finals for the first time in their history, while the Chargers will do their best to end London’s dreams of a championship. This match-up should definitely be one to watch this Saturday: this could be a tricky one for Leeds, as Warriors’ coach Tony Allen has more than a few tricks up his sleeve!
Should numbers and statistics be right, however, the Sapphire Finals could be a rematch of last year’s final. The Chargers lost to the Lions 56-6 last year and had their hopes of lifting the Sapphire trophy crushed. This year, they’re showing a much stronger side, with hard-hitting runningback Gaby Knops now playing on both sides of the ball, after a successful experience in Finland last summer with the Jyväskylä Jaguars. On the other side, the Lions are showing no signs of slowing down, with Ruth Matta still being a perpetual puzzle for defensive coordinators, especially behind Birmingham’s very strong O-line.
Will HC Jamie Kilby and DC James ‘Brian’ Branagh lead their Lions to an unprecedented fifth national title? Will Leeds get a revenge on their Southern rivals? Will London reach the final game for the first time in their history? Can Manchester defy the odds?
One thing is for sure: women’s football is growing. Squads are growing. The competition intensifies every year, and more and more teams are stepping up. This year’s finals promise to feature some strong games in Manchester this Saturday!
|Set 1||Game 1||Manchester vs Birmingham|
|Game 2||Leeds vs London|
|Set 2||Game 3||Loser of Game 1 v Loser of Game 2||3rd and 4th|
|Game 4||Winner of Game 1 v Winner of Game 2||1st and 2nd|
Silver Tournament Preview
By Claudie Allan
Whilst none of the teams playing in the Silver tournament can medal, how they do here will determine their seeding going into #Sapphire19.
Derby will be looking to improve on last year, where they finished 6th, whilst East Kilbride will be hoping they can snag their first victory of the series at the close.
Meanwhile, in the south, the Hertfordshire Tornadoes are likely to be feeling a bit miffed, after Manchester Titans made it into the Gold tournament with the same Win/Loss record. Recovering from their injury-plagued start to the season, if the last tournament hadn’t been snowed off, there’s a chance we could be looking at a slightly different lineup! With that in mind, Herts could be looking to take their frustrations out on someone.
The team in the firing line? The East Kilbride Pirates. Hertfordshire have held their own against all the big-name teams, putting points up against all of them. Conversely, EKP have unable to put a notch in the W column all season, though they’ve shown steady improvement throughout.
The Pirates will be hoping to use their penultimate game of the season to take down one of the Big Guns. It will be an opportunity for EKP to practice against a top-level team… And in this sport? On any given Saturday.
On the other pitch, the Derby Braves will be taking on the Edinburgh Wolves, the Wolves repeating their feat from the #Sapphire17 finals and very narrowly edging past the Braves when these two teams met in the cross-conference tourney. Given that Derby’s entire season has been about improving as a squad, they will be determined not to let Wolves take them again, especially by such a small margin.
This will be the game to watch. If Edinburgh scrape past Derby once again, they will most likely play Hertfordshire in Game 8, and last time these two came up against each other Hertfordshire beat them by a good three scores. Alternatively, the Braves would be more familiar with the Tornadoes – though whether that’s necessarily an advantage is another matter, as the Tornadoes have bested the Braves once already this season.
#Sapphire19 seems like such a long way off that it seems strange to think that’s, alongside pride, is a big part of what these teams are playing for on Saturday – their seeding in next year’s series.
In theory, these games could see us some upsets and some nail-biting football as these teams fight for the right to call themselves ‘Britain’s fifth-best women’s football team’.
Actually, when you put it like that, it does sound pretty impressive, doesn’t it?