Sean Colfer reports on Finals day at UKU Nationals
Another domestic season is finished, and nine teams have earned the right to compete at the European Club Championships in Poland in October. The second day at Nationals saw some inclement conditions, some very important games, and some pretty interesting story lines emerge.
Congratulations – again – to Clapham. That’s 15 in a row now, and while Chevron managed to make the first half a tight, competitive affair, they couldn’t maintain it and Clapham pulled away for a 15-11 win. Chevron’s squad looked better than it had in a few years and yet they still didn’t have quite enough to push the perennial champions right to their limit. Both teams will be legitimate contenders at Euros, but it’s tough to see past Clapham adding to their five European titles in Wroclaw.
Elsewhere, it was interesting to see how little the final standings represented the Tour rankings. In 2014, if you exclude teams that didn’t attend Nationals (like Zimmer, Ranelagh and Clapham’s split lines) only two teams finished more than a single place away from where they did at that season’s Tour – Reading jumped five places, foreshadowing their excellent 2015 season, and Manchester dropped three places after two brutal sudden-death defeats.
This season, there were 10 such teams, highlighted by both Brighton teams, City and Legends, climbing five and four places respectively. Meanwhile, Manchester dropped nine, Ka-Pow! dropped six and Birmingham dropped five.
Obviously, the fact that Clapham were at Nationals dropped everyone a place. They did not play a part in Tour this season, instead training as GB and going over to the USA. The international circuit affected a number of other teams too – Chevron, Brighton, EMO and Fire got GB players back from a number of divisions – but with more international play disrupting the teams at the top next season, the difference between Tour standings and Nationals finishes will be an interesting thing to look out for.
Meanwhile, Devon struggled to maintain their first day momentum. They followed up a loss to Brighton City with a win over Ka-Pow!, though, to move into the fifth place game against EMO with the last spot at Euros on the line. EMO had the opposite route to the qualification game after overcoming their loss to Brighton Legends by winning four consecutive games. Devon got the first break but from there EMO seized the initiative and won the game 15-11 to take the last spot in the Open Challenger division.
Iceni won another National title, conceding a total of 19 points in their four games. Their worst game was their first, a 15-7 win over a young Relentless team. That this tied for the most points Iceni conceded in a game on these shores this season shows how dominant they continue to be domestically.
The final was a rematch of 2013, with Nice Bristols merging their teams and entering Nationals at full strength. The result was the same as two years ago, though, with Iceni pulling away after taking half 8-4 to win the game 15-6.
The third place game was another familiar match up; a SYC team featuring a number of ex-Leeds players playing against a Leeds team featuring a number of former players who returned from ROBOT for Nationals. The game saw a number of momentum swings – SYC took half 8-5, but Leeds managed to level it up at 10-10. They pulled ahead 13-12, but SYC managed to pull it out and score the final two points for a 14-13 victory.
Further down, Punt took fifth ahead of Relentless with Manchester topping Phoenix in the seventh-place game.
The final always looked like being a match between two of the top three teams during the Tour season, and so it proved. Black Eagles won Tour and triumphed 14-7 in their semi over Brighton, while Reading, who placed third at Tour, beat JR 15-8.
The championship game was much closer than both of the semis, but Reading managed to pull off the minor upset and take the title 15-13 in a high-quality game. The Mixed division in general seemed to have teams taking it as more of a focus this year after it seemed as though last year saw more of a focus on Women’s and Open.
Brighton beat JR for third, while Thundering Herd dominated BAM! for fifth. Last year’s runners-up Pingu Jam endured a tough weekend but managed to win their final game over Devon for seventh.
The tournament was another well run, efficient affair and the live scoring was quicker than ever. It was interesting to see the effects of the international teams this season, and whether or not those effects are similar next year will be one of the things to watch out for. Congratulations to the National champions Clapham, Iceni and Reading, congratulations to everyone who qualified for Europeans in Poland and congratulations to everyone for another great Nationals. See everyone again next year!