Photo courtesy of Andrew Moss
Cardiff will be the centre of the UK Ultimate universe for the second time this season over the weekend, with Open and Women’s teams from across the country making the trip to Wales. There are several missing teams though, and this time it’s not just because I forgot to mention them.
Let’s start, then, with the absentees. The Team Who Shall Not Be Named-ron are training this weekend ahead of Windmill in a week’s time, something they’re targeting as a key part of Worlds build up given the plethora of high-quality European teams they can pit themselves against. They played really well in Nottingham, suffering only one loss to Clapham’s D line in the 1v3 crossover on Saturday evening – and even that was in sudden death. They’ve integrated a couple of young players into vital roles over the last couple of years and now seem to be in a really good spot – Seb Allen made some crucial plays in the final, as did Dec Cartwright and others. They’ve moved a few people around too, with Rollo Sax Dixon moving over to add an additional deep threat on the O line and Cartwright offering some calm to the D line, and the addition of former EMO captain Joe Wynder to their O line handling group has given the team a new dimension – they attacked the deep space aggressively and made some big plays at crucial moments. Wynder and Ben Burak both played a D point in an important situation in the final, too, so there’s some versatility there if needed. They still have room to grow for sure but given that they’re starting from a pretty high point that’s a good place to be in.
The Irish teams are both staying away from Cardiff, with Ranelagh also going to Windmill. Both teams played well in Nottingham but the Dubliners were clearly a step ahead of their rivals, the Laghds winning 14-9 in the head-to-head quarter-final. Both teams are quality though – PELT lost only once, to Ranelagh, all weekend and Ranelagh only lost to the two Clapham teams and Chevron. Their absence weakens the field for sure.
Clapham have shrunk down to one team for this Tour so will not encounter their most difficult foe from Windfarm: relentless fatigue. Both teams suffered some niggling injuries and were reduced to 10 or 11 players for the business end of Tour 1, which severely restricted how much they could put in. With one team, and in this field, they should run riot.
So, then, about that field; it’s weak. Six of the teams that finished in A Tour last time out are missing (the four mentioned above, Glasgow for whom it’s a bit far, and Leeds who are in B Tour North) and more in B Tour are also absent. It leaves a field of only 39 teams, the lowest I can recall in some time, and a B Tour of only eight.
The 1-8 pools, at least, feature the kind of teams we’re accustomed to seeing in A Tour. Clapham will beat Devon, Manchester and Brighton on Saturday, and Devon should have enough to top the others but both Brighton and Manchester will be optimistic about their game against each other. Brighton were dealt a tremendously difficult hand at T1 and played pretty well considering that, whereas Manchester notched an unexpected (for me, anyway) win over Fire to send the Londoners tumbling. Manchester look very different this year to previous seasons but proved their battling qualities with a win over an EMO team that had looked good going against Clapham earlier in the weekend.
Chevron taking a long-sought win over Clapham – Photo courtesy of Andrew Moss
Reading top the other pool after finishing as the best non-Worlds Open team in Nottingham (admittedly, a lot of these men are going with the Mixed team but still). Their reward is a Ka-Pow! team who finished eighth after coming in second in the pool with Manchester and Fire but losing out on Sunday. They’ll be keen to show that they earned the place by being better than the teams below them rather than getting slightly lucky with the draw of Fire as a high seed in the pool. They have a really large squad and a lot of very good players so it’s a great chance for them as fourth seed. They’ll have to fend off SMOG and EMO, two teams with a lot of talent who will have been slightly disappointed with their finish at T1.
Camden are seeded 16th and start in A Tour but are coming in off the back of mixed success in Nottingham – they won against Devon 2 in sudden death and topped Bristol 2 comfortably in the pool but didn’t taste victory on Sunday. They’ll face Bristol, who had a decent Tour 1 but lost out in the A Tour crossover against another team in the pool, BAF, and Fire 1. Fire were probably the story of Tour 1 but certainly not in the way that they wanted. I was nine places out on my prediction for them, but I don’t think anyone could have foreseen them losing in the B Tour final to local rivals Flump. They were missing some important players and had a number of key injuries as well, but it was certainly an eye-opening result nonetheless. They’ll be incredibly hungry to show that this was a blip and will doubtless be fired up to play a number of teams they’ll fancy themselves against. BAF are the wildcard – their unpredictable roster makes it difficult to slot them, but I’m guessing they’ll have something similar to what they had at Windfarm so will do pretty well.
In the other 9-16 pool, Flump will be back in A Tour after earning another piece of silverware for the cabinet – their third in four years – and will face a tough group. Purple Cobras have been working their way up in both Open and Women’s and will be a difficult game for anyone, and Reading 2 showed in Nottingham that they’re no slouches. Birmingham had some issues with who was handling the disc in Nottingham but they’re a very athletic team with great chemistry, so they’re going to be tough to beat as well. It’s quite an even pool in my estimation and probably the hardest to pick. Flump have the most experience at this level and are used to grinding out results, while Reading 2 will probably have the greatest variance from top to bottom in terms of ability. Cobras against Birmingham will be intriguing though!
Overall, this is probably the weakest A Tour we’ve seen for some time. That means there are loads of opportunities for ‘upsets’ lower down the standings, and some of the B Tour teams will fancy their chances of breaking into the elite on Sunday. Predictions last time weren’t too bad, with only four teams three places or more away from their final spot (and two bang on – Ranelagh and Brighton) but definitely room to improve. By way of monitoring, I’ve decided that an exact prediction earns three points and a team within two spots of the prediction earns one point. This meant 15 points in Nottingham and I’m shooting for a score in the 20s this time around. It’s going to rain all weekend, allegedly, so see you in the mire.
1. Clapham (by a fair way)
12. Purple Cobras
15. Reading 2