Chris Bamford takes us through the competition heading to Division 2 Open Nationals this weekend in Manchester
Looking at the Division 2 nationals entrants, two teams immediately stand out as potential winners – the two teams who contested last years final – Nottingham and Limerick. Nottingham came out victorious on that occasion but Limerick won Irish nationals this year and believe they are bringing an improved squad including several U23’s from Toronto last summer, so are feeling bullish about their chances.
When it comes to Nottingham I must admit some bias to my old university, but they come in having missed out on that elusive Division 1 spot once again and without their own U23 playe, EMO captain Robert Coddington. Captain Ben ‘Paddling’ Poole, has deep throws and huge bids which make him the star of this team. To retain their title as Division 2 champions Nathan Trickey will have to continue to rack up the scores, whilst handlers David ‘Athlete’ Lang and Paul Armstrong will be required to maintain the strong form they showed at regionals.
|Andy Peck of Southampton with a possession saving snag at Western Regionals 2014.
The team I would have put next in line for a finals berth is Exeter, however they have dropped out of the tournament, which only helps other contenders such as Newcastle, Oxford and Strathclyde. Newcastle finished 4th in their region but have an experienced squad that will feel fully capable of beating anyone they come up against. They may also be hoping for some wet and windy conditions to allow them to pull out their favoured zone defence which has often caused issues for other teams in previous years.
Despite coming 5th at Midlands regionals, Oxford impressed with their athletic man D putting pressure on and getting lots of turns out of multiple teams who made division 1. If captain Dan Aronov can help them convert these turns into breaks they will threaten deep into the tournament. Strathclyde also finished 5th, but given the ultra competitive standard of the Scottish region other teams should beware. With many players involved in high level training with club side Glasgow Ultimate they should have no problem dealing with tough games from the off at nationals.
Recent regional finalists for the past few years Southampton suffered a disastrous regionals by their high standards, not even managing a place in the game-to-go. A 6th place finish in the country last year shows they shouldn’t be written off, particularly with GBU23 in Mike Speer running the show with captain William Caldwell. LSE, with their striking kit will be looking to prove the strength of the South East region after Sussex’s domination. Not long ago a Division 1 competitor, LSE remained quiet going into regionals but put in a strong show to claim a place in the game-to-go, only just losing out to an experienced Imperial side.
Surrey are another team who will be disappointed with their regional performance, coming in 5th at regionals this year, missing out on Division 1 which they earned the year before. Their recent history suggests they should be able to compete but a lot will depend on playmaker Jon Francombe and his ability to open up the break side of the pitch for the Surrey offence. Bournemouth will be delighted to have taken the final Div 2 spot in the west to qualify for Nationals for only the 2nd time ever. A great opportunity for lots of their players to gain experience at a national level tournament, it seems likely a push for a top 8 spot may be beyond them this year.
The other two Scottish teams at this event are St Andrews and Aberdeen. Everyone knows Coach Benji Heywood is the man with a plan for St Andrews. The question for them is if they have pushed on from last year where some windy condition damaged their push for their push for final at Division 2. Teams may be well advised to test them with some zone defence again. Aberdeen seem to have fallen behind the other Scottish universities this year but hung on to claim the final Nationals spot. They still have the remnants of the team which finished 12th in the country last year and an intimidating sideline will see them attempting to break the top 8 and develop for a return to Division 1 next year.
Bangor are reportedly coming into the weekend ‘literally aiming not to finish bottom’. I expect a zone look from them on D and a series of big deep then under cuts on offence. Liverpool placed 13th last year and 12th Indoors (both Div 2), so will be looking to improve on this form in Manchester. Kent made outdoor nationals by claiming the last spot from the South East, meaning they are likely to come into the event starting as bottom seeds, so the only way is up. From experience I can testify to their mean zone defence indoors and it will be interesting to see if they can translate this successfully at a national outdoors event.
Lastly: the two Midlands teams. Loughborough finished second to last at the 2013 Division 2 Nationals under captain Chris ‘Don’t call me Melon’ Peploe, who returns this year. They’ll be keen to improve on their previous finish. Handlers Peploe and Chris ‘Pudding’ Alderson and Chris ‘ Jaff’ Martin are some of the players who have been involved with JR so I’m expecting wild swings from hot to cold for the Loughborough offence. Captain Andrew ‘Pumba’ Sellers will hope by the end of the weekend that Loughborough are the team described as ‘the ones who were a lot stronger than their seed’. UEA sneak into Nationals thanks to drop outs from other teams. They were confident going into the season with star players in Howard Storey (U23 Mixed) and Luke Frett (Jen). Captain Arron Reed will be hoping that they can help show that the Midlands still has both the strength and the depth it is known for.
I’m expecting the Semi finalists to be Limerick, Nottingham, Newcastle and Southampton. With strong squads, each will feel they could have competed with teams at Div 1 and will be looking to prove so with victory in Manchester this weekend. All four have the quality to go the whole way, and the eventual winner will probably be decided by the team who simply keeps their focus best throughout the weekend.
All is to play for in Manchester – Good luck again to all teams from The Showgame, and stay tuned for the Women’s Division Preview!