So here we have it: the BUCS First Leagues half-way piece from Haydon Cristou. Get your insider info, find out what has happened elsewhere, or relive the highs and lows of your league again. Strap in as we run in order of entertainment…
Still On Top
Sensing a large drop in skill compared to last year, a lot of teams predicted they’d finally defeat Bath in the BUCS leagues this year. Those predictions turned out to be pretty optimistic. Western 1A is fairly thin as the regions go, and a huge turnover from last year’s #2 team in the country still nets you the top spot in the league. With only Southampton and Exeter to play, Bath should cruise to first and Division 1 Nationals yet again.
End Of The Road
It’s sad to say, but it looks like Southampton is out of runway, both to make Div. 1 and avoid relegation this year. They’ve lost every match this side of the season with tough defeats against Swansea, University of West England (UWE), and Exeter. Even separate miracles against the two powerhouses (Bath and Bristol) wouldn’t give them what they need to climb out of relegation. Hopefully we’ll see them contesting again in a couple years. UWE’s situation also looks quite grim. Barring a huge upset against Bristol, their only path to avoid relegation is one that involves back-to-back losses by Swansea to them and Exeter. It’s not impossible, but it doesn’t seem likely.
Whoo boy are the middle three spots a mess, though. Why? Swansea defeated Bristol in an 11-10 universe point nail-biter. Swansea has historically lost big to Bath and Bristol while running close losses against Exeter, and Bristol’s surprise defeat has created a lot of chances for tied results. The BUCS rules on this are a little tough to follow, but basically:
BUCS Reg 9.9.3: If two teams tie in number of games won, the result between those two teams is used to determine which gets the higher spot.
BUCS Reg 9.9.5: If three teams tie then the three spots are determined by their total points differentials within the three way tie.
Still with me?
I see two likely scenarios here, and both spring from a single match. (I’m assuming there are no further shocking upsets, like Southampton or UWE defeating any team above them).
Scenario A: Swansea defeat Exeter
As it’s my home university, I try to be a little harder on Swansea than other teams to avoid bias. But, given the squad’s performance so far this season, this outcome is real possibility. In this case, Swansea would be undisputed second in the region. Bristol and Exeter would tie for number of games won, but since Bristol already defeated Exeter, Bristol would come third (Div. 1), and Exeter fourth (Div. 2).
Scenario B: Exeter defeat Swansea
This scenario would trigger a three-way tie between Bristol, Exeter, and Swansea, and Bristol would almost certainly come second. They lost to Swansea by only a single point and defeated Exeter by 10, so they would go into the tie with a +9 goal difference. Exeter would start at -10, Swansea at +1. Every point Exeter scored over Swansea would add a point to their column while removing one from Swansea’s. Some quick math tells me that Exeter would have to win by six points, doubling their result against Swansea last year. It would likely be a tough fight for third, but it would be the Welsh team’s to lose.
So, look forward to that Exeter vs. Swansea game in mid-February because everything in this league is hinging on the outcome.
Alexander Pope first said “to err is human” and I have to admit that I’m feeling pretty human right now. I did say in my original piece that the league was the closest it’s ever been, there would be an upset along the way, and any team could finish anywhere. However even I couldn’t predict the chaos that has taken place up north. I warned you all to take Hallam seriously and it seems that Durham and Manchester didn’t listen, both teams having lost to them and then told me that they were missing their best players. Hallam have put themselves in pole position to win the league, especially with BUCS placing head-to-head scores above overall goal difference when deciding league position if points are level. The question Hallam must answer is: can they do it against Bangor and Newcastle when they’re not underdogs? Having been 10–6 up against Leeds in their opening game and going on to lose 10–11, they’ll be keen to prove they can.
Durham and Manchester are still gearing up for their big showdown in the new year, however having both lost to Hallam the league title is no longer in either of their hands. Bar those losses (Durham claim their game was in 40mph gusts where neither team scored upwind), these two teams have done what is expected of them and won the rest. Newcastle will be very happy with their performance thus far; having been tipped to go down (by me), they now find themselves able to win the league. If they win their final two games against Durham and Hallam and Manchester lose a game, then they’ll have achieved promotion and league victory in consecutive seasons. Win one and they’ll guarantee Division One nationals. However, lose both and they could be relegated. The boys from the Tyne need to hit the ground running in the new year to ensure this positive start doesn’t end in disappointment.
Several Leeds players personally messaged me after their victory over Hallam to smugly gloat about how my predictions were already wrong. I’d like to remind those individuals something about counting and chickens, since they then lost to both Newcastle and Durham and are now on course for the relegation that I implied they’d suffer. Winning their last two games would ensure league survival at Manchester’s expense. Bangor on the other hand are pretty much relegated. I previously talked about how hard it would be to send a team down to Bangor. It appears that I should have commented on how hard it would be for Bangor to send teams north as a conceded match against Newcastle has left them on negative points. Barring some crazy results, we won’t be seeing the Welsh boys in the top league next year.
The first half of the season has been an action-packed roller coaster ride and I fully expect that to continue in February. I’m going to tentatively make some updated predictions but unlike last time I fully expect one or more of these to be wrong (I could easily see Newcastle coming third), so watch me get them all right this time.
Let’s take a quick look at the Scottish table:
I’ll divide this into three chunks: those at the top, the lads in the middle and those propping up the table.
St. Andrews are super-humans – they have done excellently – but you could argue that they have had an easier start than the rest. Their upcoming fixture list is more difficult, including the likes of Strathclyde, Glasgow and Edinburgh. They have had no shocks or issues and Gabe Schechter can get his teeth into leading his University once he’s finished his GB U24 Captaining duty. Edinburgh have impressed so far; they smashed Dundee but disappointed with their performance when Glasgow came to call. Also, major tests are still to come and must be faced without their American students. Fergus Claridge (ex-Nottingham & GB U24) has been called in to coach the team, so expect an improved performance from them in the second semester with difficult fixtures ahead: the Edinburgh derby against Heriot-Watt, and both St. Andrews and Strathclyde. Finally, Strathclyde have three wins with a solid goal difference and a game-in-hand compared to St Andrews. To most, it was a shock that they beat Glasgow, whereas I predicted it would go that way this year. The top looks tasty, and like it will come down to the 21st February when Strathclyde come up against St Andrews 1 in a game for the title. Can St. Andrew’s make it three in a row?
Heriot-Watt have been a surprise following their triumph over Glasgow. However, the wild celebrations appeared to have resulted in a long-term hangover, resulting in a loss to Dundee on universe. The upcoming fixtures for Heriot are a mixed bag, but win all and we could see them catapulted into that final Div. 1 spot. However, this could become problematic as exams at Heriot and Nationals never works out. Dundee will be seriously disappointed. They lost out to Edinburgh which exposed major frustrations, and most of their fixtures should have been close but they seem to have under-performed. Victory over Heriot will bring small comfort to this disconsolate team. Why has it all gone wrong then? Well Andrew Dick (ex-GB U23) has departed and a lot of the squad appear to be more junior players with less playing experience. Are we going to see Dundee in the Div. 1 spots at the end of the season? Highly unlikely. They deserve a special mention to the fact that they finished second at UMIR and qualify for Div. 1 indoors, but I doubt that they will do well at UMIN. Like Heriot, it is likely that this year will be a solid rebuilding year, with a more competitive squad looking to come again next season. An important future fight for them will be shutting out a resurgent Stirling to hang on by their fingertips to that Div. 2 spot.
Stirling lead the bottom trio as expected. Their captain has built a culture akin to the Dallas Roughnecks, rebuilding Stirling’s franchise bit by bit. A postponed game against Strathclyde might bring some comfort, but their fixture list is not easy reading. Heriot-Watt and Dundee will have been earmarked as key fixtures if they are to claim a Div. 2 spot. It is important not to underestimate the boys in green who have bring the fighting to every fixture. Aberdeen have lost all their games but their goal difference is better than St Andrews 2. Their narrow loss to Stirling will disappoint them, but the St Andrews 2 game on February 21st will be crucial in determining whether they end up at the bottom or not. St Andrews 2 have not been as good as previous years, and are an extremely fresher-heavy side that experienced some big personnel losses to first team call-ups. I still expect this team to finish last in the table.
2nd St Andrews
9th St Andrews 2
It’s winter and in the South East, things appear to be as they should be. It’s wet, it’s windy, and Sussex sit at the top of the local BUCS Ultimate league. But look a little closer and things are much more interesting than you might expect with all still to be decided.
Sussex have shown their strength as preseason favourites with strong wins away from home against Portsmouth and Hertfordshire. Whilst this might seem to be business as usual for the reigning National Champs, the Mohawks have a point to prove outdoors after not qualifying for Division 1 Indoor Nationals, with continued league dominance required to prove their pedigree.
The real intrigue begins below the top spot. Whilst the table looks like Hertfordshire and Portsmouth are sitting comfortably in second and third respectively, a closer look at some of the scorelines suggest things have been far tighter than that. Hertfordshire holds second position after beating UCL by two points, whilst Portsmouth only just managed to scrape by the latter on universe point. UCL also involved themselves in more universe point drama, taking victory over Imperial. With these four teams only separated by the finest of margins, it is very much all to play for as teams aim to make Division 1 Nationals and avoiding relegation. LSE, however, appear to be not quite up to par with the rest of the division and seem a dead certainty for the drop. Whilst they are not too far off the pace, some sizeable losses so far don’t bode well for the rest of the season.
So just how will it finish? It is all to play for in the middle of the pack and with the two London teams having a game in hand you might fancy them to overturn the points difference. Unfortunately for those two teams, they both face an away trip to Sussex where a win for either seems unlikely to me. So, I’m playing it as safe as can be and predicting that the table will finish exactly as it looks now, no changes.
The Midlands remains difficult to judge since no team has played more than two games so far. Top of the pile are Birmingham, whose two wins show a useful pair of abilities. A tight win over Nottingham indicates they can grind in difficult weather conditions, while a trouncing of Trent shows they can also motor through games when they have an advantage and put lesser opposition to bed quickly. Can they be beaten? I wouldn’t put too much money on it.
The second unbeaten team thus far is Oxford, on their return to the top tier. A strong start against Warwick puts them second going into Christmas, but regional heavyweights lurk in the new year. Things could change, with the January match against Nottingham a potential Div. 1 decider.
Speaking of Nottingham, they’ll be disappointed to have fallen in such close fashion to Birmingham. With an early season win over Warwick, and their game against Trent to come, they should stay safely in the top league for another season. Warwick’s huge turnover looks like it could cost them dear, having lost both pre-Christmas fixtures, but they will hope player development will start to kick in soon, with showdowns against Birmingham and Loughborough still to come.
At the foot of the table, Trent’s debut foray into the first leagues has been a chastening experience, seeing them barely put a point on the board against a dominant Birmingham. The pink half of Nottinghamshire will need to pick themselves up quickly as the games come thick and fast in 2018. A visit to Warwick at the end of January will leave only one win-less team in the league, and the loser may as well start planning their promotion push for next year.
Finally, Loughborough remain an enigma. Yet to play a game, all there is to go on is indoor form, which was pretty devastating. Without losses to their BUCS league competitors at Men’s or Mixed, can they continue this trend or will other teams step up and send them down? Do the smaller rosters of indoors flatter Haze?
Looking ahead to Nationals, I stand by my pre-season predictions. Birmingham to hold on to top spot, with Loughborough and Oxford following them to Div. 1. Warwick and Trent to be relegated. And (bold call time…) Nottingham to come fourth at the bottom of a three way tie, and be awarded the final Div. 1 spot, ending the Midlands reign of Div. 2 terror.