Sean Colfer reports on the first day of action at UKU Nationals
The first day of UKU Nationals 2015 brought a number of surprises, as well as some beautiful sunshine. Here’s a quick round-up what you need to know from day one, ahead of the finals tomorrow afternoon.
First things first; yes, that is Devon in the third place bracket. They rode a strong deep game keyed by former Great Britain Mixed player Richard Coward to a semi-final berth against Clapham. On the way they dispatched Flump 15-7 before stunning Tour 3 winners Ka-Pow 15-5 – after taking half 8-1. As they did in 2013, when they finished fourth having upset Fire, Devon seem to have saved their best for Nationals.
Those wins set up a game against perennial Nationals champions Clapham, which the team from the south west lost 15-10. Devon did battle back to 11-8 from 8-2, scoring three points in a row at one point. Clapham, though, were too strong for them in the end and eased into yet another Nationals final.
There they will meet Chevron, who topped Fire 15-9 in their semi-final. No team has scored double figures against them, and they look in good form ahead of the final. Whether they can convert that strength and momentum into finally getting over the hump at Nationals remains to be seen.
Fire will face Brighton Legends in one half of the third-place bracket, while Devon will face Brighton City. The two Brighton teams lost to the finalists in the quarters and will provide stiff match ups. The Legends have already proved their strength by defeating two strong teams; beating EMO 15-13 and Ka-Pow! in sudden death 15-14. They’ll be a tough game for anyone with their mix of athleticism and experience (and spice).
Further down, Ka-Pow! will face Manchester in a rematch of the Tour 3 final to see who remains in the top eight, with a shot at Euros. Neither team will be pleased with their first day’s showing and this game promises to be a tense, close affair. Glasgow will face EMO in the other top eight playoff.
The Women’s division has seen far fewer surprises. Iceni conceded 10 points in three games, with seven of those coming in their first game against Relentless. LLLeeds were able to top Relentless 15-5 in their match, though, and qualify for a semi-final place alongside the reigning Nationals champions.
In the other pool Nice Bristols pulled a minor upset with a 15-9 win over SYC, leaving them top of the pool. Both teams also struggled against Punt but were eventually able to overcome the Oxford-based team and qualify for semis. Bristols, then, will face LLLeeds and SYC will face London rivals Iceni in what will be very familiar games all around – particluarly with LLLeeds picking up some experienced players from the Women’s Masters team for this tournament.
With only two EUCF places on offer, all four teams will be going all out for a spot in the final. The LLLeeds and Bristols game, particularly, should be tight and exciting.
Further down, Punt will try to convert their strong showings against the top two in their pool into fifth place, starting against Phoenix, while Relentless will face Manchester in the other half of that bracket.
Black Eagles won all of their games with relative ease today, conceding no more than seven points against any opponent. They have qualified for the semis tomorrow, as have JR after wins over BAM (15-10) and Devon (15-7).
In the other pool, Reading won through despite being given a close game by Brighton Breezy. Brighton then managed to beat Thundering Herd 13-10 to take second place and qualify for semi-finals.
Black Eagles will face Brighton, while JR will face Reading. There are only two EUCF places on offer in the Mixed division as well, so these games promise to be hotly contested.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Clapham vesus Chevron will be quite a spectacle, and will surely see some big plays from both sides. With Clapham having won 15 consecutive National titles, the odds are stacked against Chevron but they haven’t looked this strong in a few years. It’ll be a good one.
Meanwhile, with the depth of teams battling for a top six place and EUCF qualification, it’s going to be an absolute dog fight from eighth place up. Both Brighton teams are playing well, as are Devon and Fire, but there are so many different permutations that could happen with any of the teams involved having one strong showing. It’ll be exciting to see who gets the spot on the plane to Poland.
The Women’s bracket features some very interesting match ups, not least a battle between two teams who have struggled against each other to keep pace with Iceni for quite a few years. Still, though, all of the teams involved have to contend with an Iceni team that looks as strong as ever. They’ll be tough to stop.
The Mixed division looks like a collision course between Black Eagles and Reading, two of the top three teams on Tour this year. Brighton and JR have the weapons to cause upsets though, and with Euros at stake they’ll be giving it everything they’ve got.
Also – expect rain. Sunshine doesn’t last forever, even on the south coast.