UKU Nationals 2017 – Open

David “DP” Pryce returns from a successful EuroStars Tour to give his, and some of the team captains’, views on UKU Nationals from the Open division in Birmingham. 

With the regular season over and Regionals decided, we move to the business end of the post season. There was a little controversy ahead of Nationals; the EUF announced, after some confusion, that the EUCR-W would only have four bids in the Men’s division. 

This decision seems a little odd considering the Irish (who sent a team to Frankfurt last year) have been moved into the UK region. To take two bids away seems excessive even with the poor performances from the lower UK teams.

But it is what it is and, with two Irish Open teams coming to Birmingham, the competition for the four EUCF spots is sure to be intense. Add to this that the exact number of WUCC bids is still unknown, and it becomes apparent that much is on the line this coming weekend.

When talking to Alex Cragg, Fire of London Captain, he remarked that: “It was frustrating to get the change in bid allocation so late and I feel our region is stronger than the four bids suggest. However, nothing has changed about our approach to Nationals, just beat the team in front of you.”

This sentiment was shared by every team captain I spoke to.

It does, however, mean that there is potential for a team to not make EUCF but get to WUCC. In the event that the UK has three WUCC spots and both Irish team finish in top four at Nationals, then the third WUCC spot would most likely be the next UK team at Nationals. That means that every game in this new format matters – from pools, to power pools, and then on to elimination games. So, let’s have a look at those pools and potential power pools.

As is fairly standard, the top two in the primary pools will go into top power pools to reseed the top eight. But teams coming out of the power pools in third or fourth will run the risk of losing out in a crossover. I think these power pools will mostly go to seed (with the only change being a possible top two swap in some pools) with the exception of pool D with favourites Pelt lining up against Devon, Alba and giant killers Reading. Reading having demonstrated they can go toe to toe with the big guns this season, though will be missing some players who have gone to the Mixed team, and Devon are ever-present near the top of Open Tour. Alba are a new, young side from Scotland who feature a number of GB under-24 players and while they’re inexperienced you can bet they’ll also be fearless. This pool could end up very differently to how it started.

One other early match up that is definitely worth watching is the standard UKU Nationals Northern derby between Chevron Action Flash and Manchester in pool C. Both captains brought this game up as their big match up in the pools. Sion Regan, the leader for Manchester, told us that regardless of the opposition “our approach will be to remain focused throughout those matches and make sure we play through our structure and style”.
And Chevron? “We usually enter the game with a shorter squad than the fellow northerners,” said Mark Penny. “But with numbers looking higher than usual for us we will be looking to really take the game to them with some high intensity defence.”

Power pools onwards is hard to predict with so many potential outcomes clouding things. But, having talked with a few of the captains, we can delve into some common themes.

Who will win overall?
In an ongoing attempt to not make predictions myself I put this question to the captains. Or, rather, I asked whether anyone can beat Clapham. Most captains, including Ranelagh’s Stephen Jones, were brutally honest and pointed out that Reading already have done just that. Jones said that they will “treat it like any other game but are looking forward to showing Hogi what he’s missing back home”. And, banter aside, that is how many teams will be looking to take on the 16-time UK champions. They are not infallible, with a small handful of losses in the past few seasons, but after a trip out to the US Open and another Windmill title in the bag they are undoubtedly strong and deep. This new format might give them some headaches but I would expect their athleticism and robotic structures to win out in the long run.

Sam Luxa (GB Coach and long term Devon player) will be looking to take Nationals by storm. Photo by Claire Baker for the ShowGame.

A word from the reigning champs?
Ashley Yeo didn’t mince his words, saying “our aim is to win”. But he also showed his experience and mental toughness in noting that they have “certainly been pushed by teams this year at Tour.” And when asked about their recent trip to the US, he remarked that the team is “re-energised towards our push to improve and perform to our best so we’ve certainly improved since we last played most of the UK teams”. Watch out anyone who gets in their way!

I did bring this up with the captains but most didn’t care so much for it, however Ash did provide a very in depth personal outlook on it:
“In previous years you wouldn’t pick anyone from a team you’d expect to make the top two because of getting four games as opposed to a possible seven out of your player. You’d also expect those teams to get plenty of D line stats in the first two games and O line stats in the last two meaning the points are way too spread around. With the change in schedule this year it does open it up a little more to picking someone from a top team, but I would try to pick solely offensive players from a group of teams that I expect to have competitive games. This is probably in the third to eighth range of teams. Outside of that I’d just go back to high usage rate players on other teams.”

However, no one has of yet stepped up to fill the gap left by the change in TD and website.

Not willing to give much else away …
As a Fire player myself, the captains were a little apprehensive to share much more but I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all for answering as much as they did and encourage everyone reading to make sure to watch the two-field coverage from Fanseat of all three divisions here.

Feature photo by Claire Baker by the ShowGame