Harry Mason gives his view on the BUCS league at its halfway point from the second tier league perspective.
The first term of the year is over; it’s time for a well-earned rest from uni life and to look back on the BUCS outdoor season as it reaches its halfway stage. And what better to look back on than the lower leagues? Always full of excitement and nail-biting challenges for the limited promotion spots on offer, this term has been no exception. Many of the seven leagues have multiple teams leading the table tied on the same number of points, so who gets promoted is anyone’s guess. At the beginning of the year we made predictions on who would do well in each of the leagues – are these coming to pass, or have we gotten things wrong? Spoiler Alert: There are two leagues in which we are confident enough to list a new favourite.
This round-up will briefly summarise each league – who’s doing well, who threatens our predictions and if any major upsets have occurred. The fixtures for this term have tended to pair up strongly seeded teams against weakly seeded ones, saving many of the more ‘competitive matches’ for next term. But with team strength varying from year to year, some title-deciding games could already have taken place.
Although the league format determines who gets promoted, it does not decide who qualifies for Nationals. This is the Knockout Cup’s job, and this article will also round-up the small number of cup matches which have happened alongside the league.
Initial prediction – Sheffield
Potential threat – Liverpool
We’ll start the round-up with the best league (in my slightly biased personal opinion), Northern 2A. Sadly reduced down to five teams due to Huddersfield being unable to consistently field a team, the majority of the games have already been completed. Liverpool and Sheffield are tied at the top with three wins apiece, with only each other left to play. Sheffield are our favourites for promotion, but will have to travel away to play Liverpool in a final match which will certainly be an exciting climax to the league. Liverpool have had comfortable victories both home and away, and from personal experience I can say their side is stronger than last year.
At the other end of the table, Sheffield 2, Keele and Lancaster are all fighting for third place. Sheffield 2 were able to defeat a weakened Keele side, and Lancaster still has to play both of them in the new year.
Initial prediction – Durham 2
Potential threat – York
Both relegated teams from last season (Durham 2 and York) are tied with five wins and zero losses. They have shown so far that they both deserve to climb back up to the top division. However, with only one spot available, who that will be is most likely determined in their last match of the season. York were able to comfortably dispatch current third-place Northumbria in the cup, and having this victory under their belt could spur York on to a solid performance in the new year.
The league has suffered a series of walkovers, of which Hull seem to be the greatest affected. Three wins but two losses have placed them lower in the league than they probably would have liked.
|4||Sheffield Hallam 2nd||5||3||0||2||3||9|
|8||York St John 1st||5||1||0||4||-19||0|
In classic northern fashion, the first round cup matches coincided with heavy rainfall leading to two postponements. Of the games that took place, Sheffield 2 were able to defeat promotion contenders Durham 2 in a very close upset. Looking to the future Liverpool may face York in the quarter-final, and the victor has a great chance to qualify for Nationals.
Initial prediction – Cambridge
Potential threat – Leicester
Midlands 2A is very much a league of two halves. Three teams are all vying for promotion (Cambridge, UEA, and Leicester) whilst three teams are yet to win a game. Cambridge were able to defeat UEA 15-3, which may damage the latter’s chances considerably. Leicester came a solid second place last year; with three victories under their belt so far and playing at home against Cambridge there is always a potential for an upset.
|2||East Anglia 1st||4||3||0||1||30||9|
|5||Anglia Ruskin 1st (Cambridge)||2||0||0||2||-28||0|
|6||Oxford Brookes 1st||2||0||0||2||-30||0|
Initial prediction – Warwick 2
Potential threat – Lincoln
Another league, another three teams all in close contention for promotion. Favourites Warwick 2 have come out on top in all of their five games, alongside a somewhat more surprising Lincoln. In their unbeaten streak, Lincoln have defeated third-place Loughborough 2, who Warwick 2 still have to play. Lincoln also have the benefit of being home against the Warwick team, who will have a considerable distance to travel. The league is still very much all to play for, although I secretly wish for Lincoln to do my home county proud.
The first round of the cup saw strong contenders from 2A and 2B, Cambridge and Lincoln, pitted against each other. Cambridge emerged victorious, in a 12-5 victory which looks to have been a very unfortunate game for Lincoln. The other favourites in the leagues saw comfortable victories through to the next round, although credit to Leicester seconds for winning their cup game against Oxford Brookes, despite being winless in the league. Nottingham seconds pipping Worcester firsts in sudden-death was the other notable result of the first round.
Initial prediction – Cardiff
New prediction – Bournemouth
The sole second division in the western region has brought unexpected results. League favourites Cardiff suffered a defeat at home to FXU, however FXU had to concede their match against current league leaders Bournemouth. The vast size of the division is proving difficult for clubs to send strong teams to away games, most notably the far-flung teams. Plymouth were thought to be in strong contention for promotion, but are unfortunately in last place. Rumour has it that struggles with their SU and the BUCS league format have made training and matches difficult, hindering them from competing properly. However, they still have a strong line-up, and could be a wildcard that stronger teams will have to watch out for.
Bournemouth are now likely favourites to earn promotion. With a victory against second placed Bath 2 alongside their walkover against FXU, as well as two teams being promoted into the top division they are almost certainly going to take it. However they still need to play Cardiff away – will Bournemouth be able to make it a clean sweep? It will be a tough fight between Bath 2, Cardiff, and FXU as to who takes the remaining spot.
*Points gained from a walkover (opposition being unable to field a team)
**Points lost from a concession (being unable to field a team)
Due to the small number of teams in the region, there has only been one cup match between Exeter and Bournemouth. Bournemouth won this by the closest of margins in a very low scoring game: 5-4. The fixtures for the quarter-finals pit Bournemouth away against Plymouth, which is a large distance to travel meaning potential for a serious upset here.
South Eastern 2A:
Initial prediction – Surrey
New prediction – Reading
Contrary to what the BUCS table shows, Reading are on top of the league with three wins out of three. They have achieved a hard-earned victory against Brighton, and decisive victories against Chichester and Portsmouth 2. However that first victory could be what places Reading in the top flight next year. Brighton themselves were able to defeat league favourites Surrey, and if Reading are able to do likewise their promotion will almost be guaranteed. If not, an interesting three-way tie will occur. If my calculations are correct, Surrey have to beat Reading by a four point margin or greater in order to come out on top. Unless another team puts a spanner in the works and causes an upset…
South Eastern 2B:
Initial prediction – Brunel
Potential threats – everyone (mainly Kent)
The final league to cover is remarkably balanced; every team has three points. Essex are currently leading by virtue of a comfortable victory against pre-season favourites Brunel, however Kent are probably in the strongest position. Kent’s sudden-death victory against Essex is their only game played so far. They have two more home fixtures in the new year which could well grant them promotion. Really, anything can happen in this league, and one bad day for a team could see them spiral and send a rival to the top spot.
|2||King’s College 1st||2||1||0||1||4||3|
|4||St Mary’s 1st||2||1||0||1||-2||3|
Only three games have taken place in the south-eastern cup. Reading were able to triumph away at Kent, Brighton achieved a walkover against Portsmouth 2, and Sussex 2 are unable to repeat their giant-killing cup progress from last year after losing to Essex. The quarter-finals have Reading facing off against Surrey. Both are strong contenders for Nationals, but only one can win.
So there you have it, the review of the lower leagues. Now we just wait and see if these results hold up in the new year. It’s looking to be a thrilling term, with vital fixtures due to take place. And as cup starts taking shape as well, we will get to see who qualifies for Nationals, and who is pipped at the post.