For many clubs, with the National Leagues Rugby returning to English rugby union competition, some will have had almost a month since their last outing in the next round of fixtures. The impacts of the latest wave of the Omicron COVID-19 variant; coupled with the Christmas break, have had quite an impact on the season.
However, with mouthwatering clashes taking place up and down the country it is time to turn the attention to the latter half of the season. In a series of articles, David Challis will be looking at National One, National Two ‘South and North’ leagues over the coming days, to assess the key narratives going into 2022.
A host of promotion candidates in National League Rugby
With the rules surrounding promotion out of National One, finally confirmed over the festive period it leaves at least five clubs eyeing up a place in the Championship next season. With one, two or potentially three sides heading up at the end of this season, the race is on to secure a place in the second tier of English rugby.
Currently, Rossyln Park FC appears to be the favourites to secure a promotion spot. They hold a three-point lead at the top of the league and a game in hand on their rivals. However, as has been the case for so many games this season, Rossyln Park has not dominated all comers as their record may suggest.
This goes for all the sides in the top five, Cinderford, Sale FC, Caldy and Cambridge have all shown signs of weakness throughout the season. Although, it has been these sides’ ability to ‘grind out victories’ in difficult circumstances, that has set them apart.
The 2021/22 season in the National Leagues of English rugby has been unpredictable, to say the least. Caldy is the ultimate example of this. Many would have tipped the newly-promoted side to struggle at the very least but they have set the league alight in the last two months.
📈 | STAT ATTACK
We have reached the half-way point of our @Natleague_rugby Division One season and find ourselves, 4th place in the league.
👏 | @beearejay92 is 2nd Overall in National One for points scored this season with 114.
— Caldy RFC (@CaldyRFC) December 29, 2021
Racking up tries and wins, the Wirral-based side sits fourth on a great run of form. A continuation of this momentum into 2022 could seriously spark dreams of unheard-of back-to-back promotions for a side that has been a breath of fresh air in National One.
Scrap at the Bottom of table (as teams await clarification)
When the announcement to confirm the rules surrounding promotion emerged, many would have hoped for something similar regarding relegation to follow shortly after. Disappointingly, nothing has been confirmed into January and the sides at the foot of National One continue to wait for clarification on their situation.
Sitting bottom is newly promoted Tonbridge Juddians. The Kent-based side has been slow to adjust at times having made the jump up this season. However, sitting just a game adrift of their competitors and with the joint-most amount of bonus points of the bottom six, their fight is by no means over.
With no certainty around the number of sides set for the drop, the bottom seven teams will likely be looking over their shoulder for the next few weeks (at the very least). A few quick wins for any of these bottom sides could make a massive difference in the short term.
Leeds Tykes and Plymouth currently occupy 13th and 14th places but have next to no gap above them. Leeds, in particular, found form before the new year and could be in for a big start to 2022 under the new head coach Jon Callard.
— Leeds Tykes (@LeedsTykes) December 28, 2021
It would be the hope of Last Word on Rugby, and England Rugby it might be presumed that, sides like Leeds can be given some information soon regarding relegation, however, fan support in the counties is always unwavering. Each game from here can be contested squarely on this New Year.
All to play for, yet impossible to predict in 2022
One would be foolish to make any predictions regarding this season of National Leagues rugby in England. On any given weekend, every side has shown themselves capable of beating almost anyone regardless of form or pedigree. Over the next month or so, the picture will become clearer, though it seems unlikely any big gaps will open up at either the top (or the bottom) of the table.
To keep up to date with all the action, follow along with Last Word on Rugby over the coming months.
“Main photo credit”