Hannah Pendlebury returns with her preview of Women’s Tour in Cardiff.
By all accounts, Tour 2 was a bit of a slog. After the inevitable physical and mental drain of Nottingham’s trademark “steady breeze”, teams will be doing their best to bribe the weatherman ahead of this weekend in hope of more favourable conditions. Quite rightly so too, as the Llanrumney venue isn’t exactly known for its consistent climate!
Sadly, all the sun saluting seems to have come into full force a little too early, though the weekend looks set to be generally mild (touch wood!). This should hopefully provide teams with an opportunity to show off their best Ultimate as they come into full stride for the last event of the Tour season. For many this will also also be their last outing of 2016 altogether, with just eight teams of a possible 25 having entered a bid for Women’s Nationals in August. Disappointing though this is for fans of the Women’s game, plenty of teams will be fighting hard and ready to leave it all on the field in Cardiff to finish the season on a high. Exciting!
Tour 3 sees the return of power pools for the top eight teams, with the top four locked in by the end of Saturday and the lower 14 battling it out for that all-important Sunday morning crossover. Notable absentees from this pack include Glasgow and Guildford who have impressed so far this season, both making significant gains from their initial rankings with some quality play. It is particularly gutting not to see a final deciding match up between Guildford and Reading, who jostled for final position in both Nottingham and London and are currently at one win apiece. Maybe if there’s a spare pitch at SE Regionals…? We live in hope. In the meantime, let’s see those pools!
Power Pool S: Iceni Y (1), Iceni X (3), LLLeeds (6), Hydra (8) In contrast to Nottingham, the power pools in Cardiff are a mix of even and odd seeds, which looks to be an effort to provide the top 8 teams with some fresh match ups. Pool S certainly delivers on this front, with the only rematch being the all-Iceni rematch from Tour 2. Hydra are especially keen to test themselves against the top 8 after a hard grind to get into this bracket. If they can bring out their best they will certainly prove to any opposition that they have the skills needed to roll with the top-flight teams.
However it seems likely that pool S will be a pool of two halves, with both Iceni teams expected to lock into semis after leaving LLLeeds and Hydra for dust. This is by no means an insult to either lower-seeded team but rather an indication of the sheer strength and depth in the Iceni roster. Both sides of the London powerhouse feature very few changes from their Nottingham squads (besides a few extra legs) and without the wind to meddle with their well-drilled offence they will be exceedingly difficult to overcome. Having said that, there are rumours that LLLeeds are dreaming of a top four finish after executing some seriously bold handler-driven offence in Nottingham. To quote captain Jessie Davidson “…it is Cardiff. Who knows what will happen!”
I wholeheartedly encourage you to dream big, ladies.
Power Pool T: Rebel (2), SYC (4), Nice Bristols 1 (5), Relentless (7) When I saw this pool, I couldn’t help but get excited. Whilst the outlook for the other power grouping is more conservative, over in pool T anything could happen as these four very capable teams battle for the opportunity to knock Iceni off their perch in the semi finals.
SYC, Nice Bristol and Relentless all met in the same pool at the very beginning of the season, but have not had the chance to play each other since then. Each team has grown and developed since London, but certainly the biggest change has been within the Bristol roster. With the return of their GB players as a complement to their rising stars, Bristol were undefeated in Nottingham, staging a much-anticipated return to the top eight and claiming the spirit prize en route. It is expected that we will see more of the same spirited and high-level Ultimate at Cardiff, especially as they take on Rebel for the first time.
Rebel and SYC had a great semi final matchup in the wind at Tour 2 with plenty of momentum swings throughout the game as both sides successfully scored those all-important upwind breaks. Rebel managed to grind out the win in the end, but only time will tell if the strong throwing skills which served them so well in Nottingham can steer them towards victory in calmer conditions too. SYC will certainly be ready to rumble in Cardiff, taking plenty of confidence from their pool play victory over Iceni X at Tour 2. Having managed to consistently convert their O points against the European champs, any opponents SYC face this Tour will have to work very hard to create turnover opportunities.
Relentless are the underdog of this pool, but certainly not a team to be underestimated. Having staged an impressive comeback from 6-2 down to a crucial 9-8 win against Brighton in Nottingham, this is definitely a team who can find that extra level when needed. Currently ranked fourth overall in the Tour standings with several teams hot on their heels, Cardiff will be a test of their consistency but equally an opportunity to cement a reputation as the UK’s premier non-geo Women’s team.
Pool U: Punt 1 (9), Manchester (16), Bristol 2 (18) Punt struggled at Tour 2, suffering heavy losses during pool play as they struggled to get to grips with the wind. Their trip to Cardiff sees them regain three key players within their handler set in the form of Niamh Delaney, Eleanor Nicholson and Avril Hunter, which should allow them to open up their game and find deep shots more consistently. The quality in their roster across the board should provide them with secure wins during pool play, with plenty left in the tank to break into the top eight if they can find their feet on Sunday morning.
Manchester had a solid start in Nottingham but struggled in their crossover against Reading on Sunday morning. They have come a long way with their core roster remaining consistent over the season so far. Although it seems unlikely that they will manage to topple Punt, they will make the most of every game as they continue to gel and develop as a team. Their game against Bristol’s second team should prove to be an exciting one, with each young team holding the potential to swing momentum in their favour for an easier crossover ahead of Sunday’s round two robins.
Pool V: Swift (10), Phoenix (15), Devon (17) Pool V quite nicely mirrors pool U, with top seeded Swift likely to comfortably retain their seed as they sharpen their plays ahead of tougher match ups later in the tournament. Having a bit of breathing space in their pool will serve them well as they bring a number of their second team players into the fold for their final event of the season. Swift were gutted to be knocked out of the top bracket by Hydra at Nottingham and frustrated by the unrelenting winds, so they will no doubt be taking every opportunity to rejoin the higher end of the table.
Phoenix and Devon both had a very mixed experience at Tour 2. This is the third time that these two teams will have met each other during pool play, with Phoenix coming out on top with a fair margin both times. However, with a relatively low overall scoreline from their game at Nottingham it would definitely be wrong to rule out the possibility of Devon managing to stifle the Phoenix offence and take a win of their own. Certainly based on reports from other teams who have faced the west country based ladies their highly effective defensive pressure and clever, cool-headed offence could see them go far in Cardiff.
Pool W: Brighton (11), Dragon Knights (14), Punt 2 (20), Discie Chicks (22) After a close loss in pool play against Relentless at Tour 2, Brighton had to face off against a rising Nice Bristols team to retain their position in the top eight. This tough match up and subsequent loss seemed to knock the wind out of their sails a little with a surprising drop to 11th. However, this geo team will no doubt come to Cardiff ready to climb their way back up to the top, showing off their full quality on the way. Expected to hold the top position in their pool, LLLeeds or Hydra will have a tough job in the crossover against this fired up and highly capable team.
Dragon Knights had an excellent Tour 2 with their zone defence and squad of nippy juniors, rising from 21st to 16th seed over the weekend. Sadly this time around sees them lose their juniors to EYUC in Ghent so their focus will be on playing their best and enjoying their last outing of the season. This slimmed down roster does also make pool W a touch more exciting, with a real opportunity for Punt 2 to sneak up the seedings significantly having beaten Dragon Knights back in London. Definitely a matchup to watch!
Discie Chicks also had a great time at Nottingham, nearly taking wins against both JR and Phoenix. Having fielded a fairly consistent squad at Tours 1 and 2 they will be missing a few of their key players in Cardiff, but are sure to bring a well-spirited and enthusiastic offence to any team they meet.
Pool X: Reading (12), Crown Jewels (13), Black Sheep (19), South Wales Storm (21) Another team who fared well in the wind were Reading, only losing one game against a heavily underseeded Nice Bristol and scoring plenty of upwind points all weekend. As previously mentioned, Reading will be gutted to miss out on a final rematch against Guildford who challenged them with a solid zone look in Nottingham. However, they may find a new close opponent to jostle with in the form of Crown Jewels who will be keen to take revenge after Reading knocked them into the 17-20 bracket back in London. With these teams having been kept apart by the schedule at Nottingham but both having close games against Guildford, expect to see a real battle for top spot in this pool.
Black Sheep have had a great first season thus far and successfully built on their performance for Tour 2, with some glimmering moments of beautiful Ultimate. Captain Heather Williams recalls their “incredible upwind score” from the start of Sunday as one of her personal highlights, though the team has yet to find this level of play consistently. Having had a chance to stretch themselves against the likes of Bristol at tTour 2 they will be pleased to have another chance to play Crown Jewels after a very enjoyable game in Nottingham.
Adding a final splash of intrigue to pool X are women’s tour newcomers South Wales Storm. Despite my best attempts I have absolutely no information on this team, they could be anyone and could do anything (except come higher than fifth). It’s pretty unusual to see wildcard teams like this during the latter stages of Women’s Tour, but I cannot wait to see what these ladies are capable of.
Thus I conclude the pool preview for Cardiff. Thanks to all the captains who have patiently answered my questions so far this season, but more importantly thank you all for the work you do in making Women’s Ultimate happen. It’s been an incredible Tour season thus far with new teams at all levels within the division making waves and a high level of spirit across the board. See you on the fields in Llanrumney this weekend for more of the same. Best of luck!
Featured image by Serena de Nahlik