Women’s Tour 3: the final epic preview

Hani Pendlebury always gives the editors palpitations with her incredibly detailed previews, and this final Tour of the season is no different. Here’s her view.

It is with a mixture of excitement and sadness that I sit down to write my final Tour preview for the 2017 season. As I have said before, this year’s Women’s division has opened up so beautifully to provide teams with the opportunity for weekends crammed with close competitive games. The kind of on pitch situations that are essential to push their play to the next level. So it is disheartening to hear that despite all these exciting developments, regionals has been cancelled due to lack of interest with just six teams having entered.

Whilst I fully understand the UKU’s decision to cancel, ladies – I’m gutted! With a 22-strong division all season we really can do better in making the most of our opportunities to get on the field and play some competitive Ultimate. Yes, you might have to play the game of ‘get spanked by Iceni’ which I realise is not always the most fun. But it’s another opportunity to spend a weekend playing arguably the best sport known to man with your awesome teammates. That is a beautiful thing. Let’s make it happen next year, yeah? Cool.

Right, rant over. Onto the excitement. Let’s see those pools!

    Pool S

The ‘S’ in this power pool definitely stands for spicy… What a hot and fiery group!

SYC (1)
As a team with quality running throughout their deep roster, SYC had a cracking Tour 2. Going undefeated all weekend they managed to bag themselves maximum points and their first ever Tour win. They made pretty handy work of their pool and their closest game all weekend was their fairly comfortable semifinal win over Smog 13-9. So are SYC the ‘new Iceni’, doomed to sit largely uncontested at the top of Women’s tour? My sources would suggest perhaps not. Word on the street is their offence is not looking quite as slick as it has been in previous seasons, leaving enough scope for a plucky young challenger to potentially knock them off their perch. Saying that though, it will definitely be a hard task to take the top spot away from this talented group of players!

Smog (3)
Another team who had a pretty good time in Cardiff is Smog. Described by some as the “surprise package of the season” they showed real class in Cardiff racking up some hefty score lines and pushing SYC closer than anyone else. What’s their secret? They certainly have undeniable chemistry amongst much of their roster, forged by time together at uni in the north and on former Women’s team Relentless. But they also have some quietly talented players who can do serious damage, especially whilst their opposition’s defence are busy downfield trying to shut down this team’s big name receivers. With a few additional legs in Birmingham to help keep their lines that little bit fresher, they are especially hungry for a rematch against SYC which this pool will provide. Honestly I’m not sure what I’m more gutted about – that this is the only pool game from this group that won’t be live-streamed or that Smog aren’t attending Nationals! Well, as a Women’s team anyway…

Swift 1 (6)
Unlike the top two seeds in this pool, Swift had a bit of a mixed bag in Cardiff. With a slimline squad of just 12 players, they didn’t quite have the consistency I predicted they’d need to advance into the very highest bracket. They definitely struggled with the pressure of the live stream too, but held their own against Nice Bristols on Sunday morning to guarantee themselves a top eight finish. It turned out that this was a sorely needed win after dropping down to just 10 players on Sunday after a few injuries. Unfortunately with only 13 players coming to Birmingham I suspect staying in the top eight may be a bit touch-and-go for Swift with plenty of larger squads jostling for position. Either way though, they will certainly dive head first into their pool ready to have a their first crack at SYC this season. Hopefully they can stay healthy all weekend and level-headed in front of the cameras this time around!

Nice Bristols (8)
In my Tour 1 preview, I suggested that Nice Bristols might be taking a slow-start approach to tour this year. As an established club with a strong core of veteran players boasting finely-honed connections, there certainly seemed to be more of a focus on ‘real life’ over the summer for the majority of their more mature players. But now that all of the weddings and hen dos are over I hear that we should see some familiar faces back in red for the final Tour of 2017… Whilst this is sad for the developing players in the club who won’t be making the trip up to Birmingham, it is of course very exciting news for this pool! If previous years are anything to go by I would expect to see Bristol to have a fair shot at the upper end of the seedings – though they will need to make sure there isn’t a single spot of rust in their offence if they’re hustling for a top four seed. Have they been training enough to hit the ground at full speed? I hope so!

    Pool T

The ‘T’ in the second of our power pools should stand for tenacious… Lots of gritty teams on this side of the top eight and I can definitely see plenty of numbers changing hands here!

GB U24 (2)
Although they are sadly back to just one squad again in Birmingham, GB certainly did not disappoint at Tour 2. With both halves of the split squad having finished on the podium following a nail-biting 15-14 finish in their semi-final match up, they certainly proved that they have some excellent roster depth. I reckon the selection committee for the World Championship squads are going to have their work cut out for them in deciding who to cut and who to keep! Either way though, with a decent handful of players returning to their home clubs for Tour 3 it will be interesting to see if they can continue their winning form as a single unit. They definitely struggled with consistency at Tour 1, so hopefully they can come out a bit sharper for their final appearance this season.

Brighton (4)
Brighton’s focus this year has always been peaking at Nationals. But with a squad of just eight players on Saturday and nine on Sunday, they will have to survive a pretty gruelling weekend in Birmingham in the meantime! Not to say that this team isn’t super fit (they are) but I doubt they will find it easy to cope with the fresh legs of their top eight competitors with such low numbers. They will definitely have been doing their best to bribe the weather gods this week in the hope of some blustery weather for zone, but unless the wind is compliant with their wishes I suspect they may find themselves locked out of the top eight by the end of Sunday morning due to sheer exhaustion.

Hydra (5)
Going into Tour 2 at the bottom of their power pool, Hydra knew they had an uphill climb if they wanted to advance up the rankings on Saturday. Although a strong team who have made some seriously impressive progress this year, they unfortunately didn’t seem to hit their stride until Sunday morning in their game against LLLeeds – though in terms of staying in the top eight this was an important one to win! This time around they’ll be looking to put in a more solid effort against the top teams from the get-go. This should be helped by the fact that they will have a few more fresh legs than at Tour 2 to bolster their efforts. However this of course has it’s own drawbacks in terms of team dynamic, so hopefully their new faces will gel quickly at the weekend for maximum effect.

LLLeeds (7)
As another team with their eyes on Nationals, LLLeeds have been using their Tour season to solidify their connections ahead of August. Though saying that, they are definitely out for some revenge in Birmingham against the likes of Hydra and Chaos! LLLeeds have ended up playing tight games against both teams earlier this season which they are hoping will fall in their favour for the final Tour, proving that they are worthy of a top eight finish. Helping them achieve this will be a number of their highly-decorated veteran players, but some rising stars too. In the words of ‘LLLegend’ Gemma Taylor describing their dedicated new talent Emily ‘Harry’ Potter: “Be afraid tour… Potter is coming. The most keen keeno I’ve ever met”. Hopefully LLLeeds can make some magic this weekend to climb back up the rankings and go into Nationals on a high!

    Pool U

As far as I see it, the ‘U’ in this pool is for unshakeable – you could say it’s a bold call, but this one should definitely go to seed.

Chaos (9)
Oh Chaos. As a new team to the circuit this year, they just seem to always be the bridesmaid and never the bride when it comes to seeding! Tour 3 sees them again start at the top of a pool which they should demolish fairly easily. Sadly this also puts them in the familiar position of having been bumped out of the top eight and thus locked out of top four, this time by virtue of Nice Bristols’ re-seeding. However as they are bringing their strongest squad to Birmingham (they will be joined by a nice chunk of their U24 picks) this weekend is their time to prove that they deserve to be taken more seriously – if they can utterly smash fifth place

Swift 2 (16)
Swift 2 had a bit of a struggle with numbers in the run up to Tour 2, taking on a few pickups late in the day to boost their squad. They had a challenging Saturday in their pool, fighting to put points past LLLeeds and Uprising, but they used the lessons from these tough matchups to snag some nice wins on Sunday. This included a frankly superb comeback from 3-7 down to steal a 9-7 win against Brixton! Whilst they have retained a few of their pickups from Cardiff, they are still a relatively tight squad of 13 – an intentional decision from Swift’s captains. Their aim being to develop a core unit within their second team who can take club’s strong legacy forward in future years. Smart development, Swift! I hope it pays off.

The Brown (18)
With their first and only outing of 2017, it’s nice to see The Brown return again to Women’s tour. Though I am a little concerned to hear that much like Brighton they will be taking on a full weekend of Ultimate with just eight players following some last minute drop outs. Whilst I hope that they give it their all, energy management and injury avoidance will be crucial as they find their feet as a team.

    Pool V

Man, ‘V’ words are hard… But after some deliberation, I found a great fit. I’m going to say this pool is vivacious!

Reading 1 (10)
After sending two evenly-balanced teams to Cardiff, Reading have shifted more towards a first and second team split for Tour 3. This is an effort to provide their Mixed players with an opportunity to play together, so expect Reading 1 to be fairly stacked out. Whilst Tour 2 saw both teams lacking the firepower to truly advance up the rankings, this time around they are chasing after a top eight finish and I dare say that’s an achievable goal. No matter where they end up though, teams across the division have been telling me that they are keenest to match up against ladies from Reading. Easy to see why, with the firsts going two-for-two on spirit wins thus far this season. Can they make it three in a row? We’ll have to see, but either way I think they’ll make fast work of this pool and roll on to their seeding match against Chaos with plenty of energy… That’s definitely going to be a game to watch!

Merseyside Women (a.k.a Liverpool) (15)
After being sadly absent from Tour 2 due to low numbers, it is great to see Merseyside Women back on the schedule for their second ever Tour appearance. Based on their performance back in Nottingham which included some very solid performances against mid-table teams, I am really excited to see what level their game can reach in calmer conditions. Whilst I’m not sure they will shoot up the rankings (unless they can topple Reading they’ll only be able to advance a maximum of two seeds this Tour) but with such strong leadership and a host of enthusiastic young players this is certainly a team to watch for the future. I am also super excited to report that they are running a Women’s tournament on the 12/13th September! Excellent effort Merseyside. If you’re not already attending, I heartily encourage you to speak to them this weekend and sign up.

Brixton (17)
After a bit of a gruelling Saturday in Cardiff against the likes of Nice Bristols and Reading 2, I was really pleased to see Brixton putting in some solid numbers in the Sunday round robin – including what sounded like a very intense game against Swift 2. Whilst I suspect they’re going to find pool play equally as tricky this time around, hopefully they can continue to build upon their experiences from Tours 1 and 2 as they progress through Sunday for their third appearance for their debut season. Keep grinding Brixton!

Reading 2 in action in Cardiff. Photo by Sam Mouat.
    Pool W

Pool ‘W’… Some wicked-good teams for sure!

Reading 2 (11)
With their first team coming off the back of two spirit wins, Reading 2 will be arriving in Birmingham with two plate finishes already secured under their belt. Whilst I’m sure there’s something nice to be said about a triple-plate season, these ladies will certainly be fighting hard on Saturday to guarantee their place in the top 12. Despite having fewer big names this time around with the focus on Nationals leading to a truer firsts and seconds split, Reading 2’s roster looks to have plenty of depth left in it to keep them top of this pool, provided they can continue to execute in the more crucial moments.

Red (14)
Red have had an absolutely excellent debut season, losing just three out of their total 12 games so far – all of which have been at the hands of a Reading team! Which begs the question, is this the Tour where they will finally break through and sneak a win in Birmingham? Only time will tell… But either way they’re pretty enthusiastic to get another chance to play each other. After a gutting 3 way tie in Cardiff that left them in the round robin they will at least be looking to secure their place in either the plate bracket, or higher if they can. Another young team with some wise leadership at the helm and heaps of potential, very exciting indeed.

Black Sheep (20)
Another northern team missing from the schedule at Tour 2 were Black Sheep. Perhaps as a consequence of this, they will be bringing a pretty large squad of ladies keen to get another bite at the Tour cherry! This of course will bring the inevitable challenges in terms of cohesion and pitch time management, particularly with the length of time that has passed since Tour 1 compared with the brief break between 2 and 3. But with a focus on playing their own game and having fun as a team, I’m fairly certain Black Sheep will find their flow again without too much trouble for another fun weekend!

Discie Chicks (22)
With their third and final outing of the season, the ladies of Discie Chicks will now hopefully be over those first tour nerves to take on teams like never before! They certainly made great strides in Cardiff with some much longer possessions on offence and a whopping seven points scored in their last game against Crown Jewels. Hopefully this weekend will see them continue to grow and develop in confidence – exactly what this team is all about.

    Pool X

Finally we have pool ‘X’… For Xenia! A pool full of developing teams who are certainly increasing the size of their skills.

Hydra 2 (12)
I’ve already mentioned numerous teams that will be turning up this weekend with a squad of just eight women. Hydra 2 are certainly able to imagine what those players’ legs are going to feel like by Sunday evening, having experienced exactly that scenario at Tour 2! Unfortunately in their case some injuries over the weekend ended up reducing their numbers to just six, resulting in them having to forfeit their final game against Uprising. Thankfully this time out sees them return to a much more full-bodied roster, with an interesting mix of new faces hoping to hold seed in this very enticing pool! Although the ragged line that attended Tour 2 will doubtless know each other pretty well at this point, again cohesion will be key as they progress through the weekend to try and retain their top 12 seeding.

Vurve (13)
After a frustrating Tour 1 Vurve arrived in Cardiff with plenty of gusto – snagging second place in yet another three-way tie, this time with Reading 1 and Red. Unfortunately their Sunday was filled with games not going quite in their favour, including a sudden death loss to Hydra 2! No doubt they will be out for revenge in their last pool game on Saturday where we will see these two teams face off for the third time this season. I would expect to see a very spicy game indeed with both teams giving their all, especially as the victor will guarantee themselves a coveted top 12 finish no matter how Sunday plays out.

Irish Junior Women (19)
I have to confess to you, dear reader, that I don’t know much about this team personally. However my sources inform me that these young ladies from the Emerald Isle will embody all the qualities one would usually expect from any self-respecting Irish team. So with that in mind, teams in this pool should watch out for some keen athleticism, gutsy plays and all round good craic! Certainly as a newcomer to the Tour circuit, they’ll have a perfect opportunity to catch the higher seeds on the back foot. Feel free to shake this pool up, Ireland!

Crown Jewels (21)
And last but by no means least, our attention turns to Crown Jewels. Another development team solidly plugging away in the lower bracket, but definitely making strides with every passing game! Great to see them putting away a load more points in Cardiff – hopefully they can continue this momentum and take things to an even higher level in Birmingham!

So there we have it! That wraps up my previews for Tour 2017 – next stop Nationals. Thank you to everyone who has helped me out this year by providing their insights and opinions, I honestly couldn’t cope with writing these previews without you! But most of all – thank you to all the Women’s players this season for continuing to make the division so exciting to write about. I can tell you for a fact that our Open writing staff are outwardly jealous… Great work all. See you at the fields!