UKU Open Tour 2016: London Calling B Tour

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Thomas Cliff returns to tSG previewing the B Tour at London Calling 2016.

And so we are here again – another year and another foray into the meat grinder that is B Tour. Perhaps less refined than its big brother A Tour, the second level in UK Ultimate is a proving ground for many teams with high aspirations, and this year’s crop are no different in that respect. I will be having a look at the potential difference makers from top to bottom, in an effort to get to grips with a challenging and ever-changing division.

The top end of B Tour will contain some names that everyone will recognise from the top flight in the last few years. Curve, under new leadership, have made some changes; the rumour-mill has it that they will be adopting some six-sided strategy from Brighton. They will have a solid squad from top to bottom, and the likes of Rich Fenn coming into Open Tour off the back of a Mixed Tour victory with JR. They may do well through this, but may miss also standout Rob Anderson at Tour 1.

Bristol are another team holding a top seed, and I imagine like all other teams who tasted A Tour last season, are feeling hard done by with their seeding, having finished the season strong with a 12th place finish at Tour 3. Bristol have had a strong core of players who have spent the last few years climbing the rankings together, and they plan on carrying on in that tradition of upwards momentum with athletic defence from the likes of Jamie Lowe, sensible O from Ben Groombridge and company, and of course a penchant for Taylor Swift.

ABH, BAF, and Brighton Legends are all likely to be challenging for any promotion spots as well. BAF and ABH have similar squads to last year and will be looking to continue their run of good form, but Legends may be struggling from the inclusion of GB Masters in the running (and the corresponding loss of the Thaysen brothers from their strong 2015 Nationals run). Having said that, it didn’t stop them last year so I don’t imagine they will be too worried; if there is wind in London it will really play to their strengths and they will have the tools to shred any zone look thrown at them.

SMOG are coming straight in to B Tour, in my opinion deservedly so. Considering a strong Mixed Tour showing, players from the GBU23 campaigns last year including captain Max Moseley and new additions including former Leeds players Conrad Wilson and Josh Briggs (who has also played at the very top of A Tour with Clapham), this could be the year in which the north east (of England, not to be confused with NEO) sends a team back up to the top flight. Expect a lot of young and enthusiastic university players; if they come in hot any team in B Tour could be in trouble.

tSG Editor and Flump Coach playing at Tom's Tournament last month. Photo by Claire Baker.

tSG Editor and Flump coach Sean Colfer playing at Tom’s Tournament last month. Photo by Claire Baker.

Elsewhere, in the middle of the rankings Fire of London 2 will be a tenacious matchup for any top pool seeds. Fire have been preparing for some time, and although the seconds had some mixed results at Fog Lane Cup they are well drilled and have some real talent, including UCL captain Thomas Anthony. GBU20 have plenty of reason to expect success in the two Tours they are entering this year, they just have to step up and earn it. At the helm are Chevron Action Flash players Dec Cartwright and Seb Allen along with Max Craven, a young rugby star, no doubt the owner of athleticism hard to match in B Tour. The only things holding them back is their relative lack of experience (although these boys have played a lot of Ultimate already), and the fact that the Tour season is still just a warm-up for Wroclaw in August.

In the bottom half of the bracket, we have JR, who need no introduction after their ascendancy in Mixed Tour this year (which gives a few clues about the strength of their squad too), as well as the relative unknown boys from Limerick, Pelt. After a strong domestic season last year they should be looking to climb, but it’s hard to say what team will make the long journey to St Albans. The oft overlooked Guildford also find themselves at a similar seed to the last few years, not quite able to break free from potential relegation. Guildford are taking a large squad to London and it appears that Nick Roberts’ outfit will be looking to wear their opponents down with numbers, perhaps capitalising on a lack of offseason conditioning amongst their rivals. An O-line including a 14-year-old handler in the form of Elliot Jealous should provide plenty of excitement as well.

In the danger spots to start we have Leamington Lemmings (who rightly lambasted me for my predictions of relegation last year), who have lost some players to Junior and Masters teams, but have gained Adam Maxwell, formerly of Bear Cavalry and Fire of London, as well as club founder and legend Lucas ‘Thrillson’ Hillson. They will be ably backed by Nathan Sanders and a new crop of talent from school team Evolution. The ever unpredictable Flump face a low seeded entry under new coaching from Sean Colfer, who has them running a much more structured affair. With familiar faces in the likes of Jez Dunnett, Joe Minns and Ham Roushanzamir, Flump have an eye on a top 12 finish at Nationals and will be using Tour to hone their skills. Rounding out B Tour are the boys from North London, Camden. Potentially feeling lucky to nab the last spot, they will fight tooth and nail to stay there. With a strong UCL influence including Thundering Herd’s Eduardo Garciadiego, Camden will suffer the lack of a lot of Herd players they picked up last year (who have jumped ship to Pier Pressure for the Tour season), but they’ve earned the right to a B Tour spot and plan on staying there.

All in all, the lineup looks incredibly strong, and the disparity between squads almost non-existent; I’m sure it’s a cliché to call B Tour a dog fight (one that I have undoubtedly contributed to creating) but this year should be no different. Rather than a top 3 prediction I will say that I think SMOG and GBU20 will be the biggest movers upwards, closely followed by Flump.  On a potential downward slope are Curve, who seem to be taking the biggest tactical risk across the board, and BAF, who seem to be very similar to the last few years and are in danger of being figured out by their opponents – or so their results so far this year would suggest. Of course, feel free to take all of these with a pinch of salt. Curve could be about to show us tactical brilliance and BAF may prove themselves the most well drilled and gelled together squad we’ve seen in years – here’s to hoping for the spectators!

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