The open division will see some radical change this season. The schedule sets up a new final, one that will not see Clapham play Chevron, for the first time since 2012. The last time a team made its first appearance in the final was 2006 when Fire made the big game. There have only ever been four teams that have made it – Leeds are the other in the early part of the 2000s – so whoever makes the final will be the fifth. Clearly this is a fairly big moment historically. Given that, let’s go through the teams starting with the two that seem primed to compete for that final spot.
Ranelagh are probably the slight favourites. They come in with pedigree that no team other than Clapham can match over the last year or so. They finished fourth at xEUCF and have performed well at Elite Invite, London Invite and WUCC this season. One of their wins at WUCC was a 15-9 win over Alba, something to bear in mind. The team for the weekend includes plenty of the big names that featured in the xEUCF run, including key handler Ferdia Rogers and dynamic cutters Sam Murphy, Tadhg Deevy and Jack McNamara. The team works well together, will be fit and confident after a promising season so far and have history in their sights. They’ll also have coach Ian French back patrolling the sidelines (alongside assistants Sarah Melvin and Leo Micklem) after he missed WUCC. If his presence is worth even a few points over the weekend it could be the difference between the back door games for Euros spots and a shot at the trophy.
The Scots have been building their name for a couple of seasons and have continued to succeed at a high level this season. They made quarters at Tom’s, pushed teams at London Invite and had a good WUCC too. A disappointing Windfarm is a slightly odd blot on the copybook but they were without several key O line players last time out in Nottingham so it’s not truly representative of the team. Regionals saw them beat Chevron for the first time, 14-10, although both sides were missing players following WUCC. The Cammys, Agnew and Mackie, will be crucial as usual along with the other big names throughout the roster – Andy Dick, Andy Boxall, Ross Nugent, Joel Terry and Ian Tait just to pick a few out. This is a team that has been built with the aim of winning Nationals, and this is their best chance yet to make the big game.
Clapham haven’t lost at Nationals, not in the 20 years this tournament has run, and have very rarely been run close. That’s particularly true in the last few years where they seem to break other teams in the second half, running away with it at the first sight of any kind of weakness. This season started with some wobbles but they won Windmill and London Invite before finishing third at WUCC, a decent way to get over those wobbles with split squads. They’ll have their sights firmly set on more domestic and European glory. There’s not much point talking about individual players because everyone on the roster is capable of hurting teams but stopping the D line offence is going to be the biggest problem for Clapham’s opponents, even without Will Rowledge who’s recovering from injury. A mention, though, for Oscar Modiano who has become a real lynchpin of the D line once they get disc in hand and has had a really good season.
Chevron are not dead and buried, though. This season they’ve shown on several occasions that they’re still one of the better teams in Europe. They were sixth at Tom’s, beat Gentle, performed well at London Invite and finished sixth again at Windmill. WUCC was a disappointment but every game was close. There are still the same excellent players here that have been around for a while – Josh Kyme, Tom Hodgett, Steve Kolthammer, Ben Burak and plenty of others – and newer additions like Josh East, Robbie Haines, Ethan Morrell and Sam Cameron have added further quality. The schedule sets them up for the toughest semi they could have asked for, but even if they don’t manage to overcome the Clapham hurdle that they’ve never been able to overcome, they will still get a Euros spot and will be heading to Italy if they want to be. They have a record over the last 20 years to be very proud of and not making the final will be a hit to that pride. They’ll have something to prove this season and given that I’m sure will be difficult for anyone to play against.
Smash’D will be in Chevron’s pool and will be raring to go to try and take that semifinal spot. Last season was a good start but coming so close to semis and missing out on universe point against Devon will have stung. This season Smash’D have finished third at Windfarm, 11th at Windmill, 17th at Tom’s and reached the final of regionals. They’ve had good results and seem to be progressing to the next level where they can really compete regularly with the best teams. Chevron will still be favourites, of course, but the young silverbacks will be a stiff test. With six Euros spots I’d put my money on them making another trip to Euros in a few weeks where they can defend their spirit title and try to turn some of the close losses they had last year into wins and push up the rankings. They’ve shown this season that they’re certainly capable of that.
Devon are the last UK team that I would say are favourites to be in the top six. They’ve had a sustained run of success as being one of the top teams in the country for four or five seasons now and have continued to be at that level in 2022. They finished 20th at Windmill and 7th at Windfarm, both a little lower than would have been expected, but rebounded well to finish third at Regionals. Armed with some excellent athletes as usual, the team plays together well and really fights for each other. Players like Richard Coward
The second team from Dublin haven’t come to the UK in a while but last time they did they made the top eight. They finished one spot below Devon at Windmill so clearly will bring a team with talent who can cause problems for teams. They did decently at Euros last season as well, and will be aiming to return this year. Ciaran Costello has played for Ireland and will be someone teams need to keep an eye on.
The men from Cork finished eighth at Windfarm and beat Bristol on universe along the way. We’ve seen them on these shores in the past with ludicrously short lines and still succeeding, so with a bigger squad and a fresh start it will be interesting to see how well they do. They’ll have a strong long game and will be aggressive on D, and they will be in the mix for Euros spots.
I know much less about Tribe than the other teams as usually they focus on mixed and have rarely come over to play in the UK. They also haven’t gone to any European tournaments this year so I’m flying blind slightly, but they did well at Irish nationals and pushed a good PELT team very hard so they’re clearly not to be underestimated. They make up a pretty crowded middle with the other Irish teams and Bristol and will be keen to make a good first impression at nats.
Bristol have been developing the open side of the club for a number of years and are now at the point where they are a solid nationals team. When looking at the regionals line up I basically pencilled them in as a dead cert, such is the reputation and cache they have built up in the last two seasons. They went to Tom’s this season and played in a strong Div 2, then finished ninth at Windfarm. They beat Devon for the first time this season in a warm up game, but lost the 3/4 at regionals 15-10. They’ve shown that they have talent and they have the ability to string a game or two together that can really stand up to teams like Devon and those seeded a few places above them. It’s not outside the realms of possibility that Bristol snatch a euros spot, or are at least in contention late on Sunday. That it’s plausible is great credit to the work that’s being done by everyone involved in coaching, leading and developing players in Bristol.
Reading will feature a number of talented and experienced players but the best male players in the club will be competing for gold in the mixed division. The depth in Reading is such that they could easily have a team in each division, and in fairness Bristol only beat Reading 9-8 at regionals so if I’m saying Bristol can do it then Reading should be able to as well, but the other common opponent results at regionals indicate to me that it was a slightly off game for Bristol and Reading had a stormer. They won’t be a pushover, a Reading team never is, but I would have them outside the running for Euros.
EDI have done fantastically well to qualify, overcoming Manchester in their semi on universe and then blowing away Yorkshire to take the final northern spot. Another team with a club higher up the rankings in close proximity, they have maintained a core for a few seasons and have been able to generate good momentum. Windfarm was a slight disappointment with a loss to the Brown sending them lower than they would have wanted, but they rallied well and seized their spot in Nottingham. Four Scottish teams at nationals shows just how strong Scottish ultimate is at the moment and despite a difficult pool EDI will no doubt give it everything they’ve got.
The winner isn’t really very interesting here. The real intrigue starts at 2. I think Ranelagh will beat Alba, and then I think Chev will be able to get revenge for the northern final. That’s my top four. Lower down, I think the four teams in contention will be Smash’D, Devon, Rebel and XVI. The way the schedule has shaken out, it looks as though Devon and Smash’D will play again late on Saturday and the winner will be in prime position to try and get a Euros berth. I’ll back Smash’D there after the lessons they learned last year. I think Smash’D will beat XVI in my hypothetical 5/6 which means I have Devon against XVI in the game to go. That will be a good one, given how close these teams seem. I’ll back Devon since they always seem to find a way to win the games that really matter when their backs are against the wall. Which means I have it as:
Turns out it might be interesting after all!