Returning to preview the B Tour again is Jordan Brown – here’s his view on the start of a very different season at this level.
So this season we’re seeing UKU shake things up a little in order to cope with the surge in teams for the Open division and the fact that there’s nowhere to stick them all. The fix for 2017 is that B Tour has been split into North and South sub-divisions for Tours 2 and 3, meaning that WindFarm is the only chance everyone will be in the same place. With the forecast not being too windy, Grove Farm should be playing host to some nicely competitive games, unmarred by whinging of matches being lost on the toss. Still, even without the tournament’s titular gusts being somewhat of a leveller, B Tour was always going to be a ridiculously scrappy dogfight anyway.
While it’d take some pretty jaw-dropping upsets to knock the two GB U24 squads out of contention for the final, it’s tough to predict where the other 14 squads end up.
Pool E is headed up by by GB U24 Men 1. Obviously brimming with seasoned, talented athletes, they’ll be looking to prove that they should have probably been in A Tour – where the players’ regular clubs will be undoubtedly missing them. One of Ireland’s two U24 squads is also in the Pool E and will be looking to do a number on their GB counterparts. As the Irish have shown time and time again that they have what it takes to rumble with the best of them, history would suggest that they’re a squad with a decent chance of taking down GB. Still, the UKU seedings could be right on the money and Ireland produce a mid-table team, which would mean a sigh of relief for Bristol who’re seeded second in the group. They’ve ably proven their strength over the past few seasons and it’d be a shame to see them come unstuck in a group with a pair of on-form international squads. With their regular, experienced core being bolstered by the influx of enthusiastic youth from Mythago, they’ll remain a tough side throughout and will look to punish anyone who underestimates them on Sunday. Finally, at the bottom of the group are Cloud City 1. The London squad has made waves since their inception a few years back and squads, in one form or another, have slowly but surely climbed the ladder. Expect great handling and few drops. While they’re going to be undeniably strong, they should be downright ecstatic if they squeak a win over any of the others in the pool.
Onto Pool F and it’s likely to be the same story with regards to the GB squad – only this time there’s no Irish side to try and scupper their plans. Instead the group features JR, BAF and Brighton Legends – all of whom finished within six spots of each other over the course of last season. JR will, as usual, display athleticism and some ridiculous disc skills. However, with little wind to play a factor, super-strong handling isn’t going to give them the usual edge it does in Nottingham. Sitting at third in their pool, BAF will bring the traditional mix of pacy youth along with their resident octogenarian handlers that can throw anywhere they bloody well please. It takes a “bad” result for BAF to generally not finish at least in the middle of the table if not towards the top. Even if they’re phoning it in, they remain a nightmare for most teams to topple. Seeded last in the group are Brighton Legends. While last year saw them fighting it out around the middle of B Tour by the end of proceedings, you never know what you’ll get from Brighton on account of their gargantuan payer base. Actually, that’s not true – you’ll get Felix’s patented mex and hex strategies – which will be more than enough to rattle at least half of the teams in the division.
Pool G looks to be a bit calmer with no national squads looking to ruin anyone’s Saturday. LeedsLeedsLeeds are seeded at the top having finished last season 18th overall. They’ll provide tough opposition for most but they’ll have a tricky time on their hands with northern rivals Gravity and Vision in the pool. In the case of the former, they’ll be entering Tour 1 with a compact squad, but one that has bags of experience in playing together. They’ve spent the last few seasons climbing from mid C Tour to the B Tour final in Cardiff last year. I could go on but I’ll be rightly accused of being biased. Vision, I can’t see delivering much in the way of surprises. They’ll be well drilled and will crush any team that’s caught napping. Against the likes of Gravity and Leeds though, you’d expect them to bring their A-game and put up a decent fight but will likely come off second best – unless the small squad number particularly affects Gravity. As for Helix, the Curve/ABH fusion remains a pretty big question mark. Curve have delivered strongly over the past couple of seasons and ABH haven’t been miles behind. Whether or not this new outfit will gel remains to be seen but they’re likely breathing a sigh of relief at not testing the water against the likes of GB.
As for the final pool, this is where things get interesting. Cambridge sit at the top of the group which, in and of itself, isn’t that weird considering their strong showing last year landing them a 15th place finish. However, what is a little strange is that they’re seeded ahead of Birmingham who finished an impressive 11th overall last year. I can only assume that the former Terracotta Warriors have lost a bunch of big players or are trying out a lot of their slightly fresher faces. Both clubs are machines that churn out players that deliver, so that should at least make the pool interesting to watch. Still, the one to watch out for in this group is the remaining Irish team that’ll be looking to climb the ladder to beat their other squad as well as the Brits. Nevertheless, Cambridge and Birmingham will take some beating if Ireland want to make the top 4. Finally we have Camden who, despite flip-flopping between B and C Tour, have refused to roll over for anyone. While not having the most stellar of track records compared to most of the division, they should have decent matches should they come up against Helix or maybe Brighton.
Predictions for the weekend are:
1. GB U24 Mens 1
2. GB U24 Mens 2
3. Ireland U24 Open 2
4. LLLeeds 1
5. Ireland U24 Open 1
7. Cambridge 1