The final round of the U18 Academy League takes place this weekend, with the fight for those Top 3 places in each conference very much on.
The reason those Top 3 spots are so key is because the six sides finishing in those places will head to the U18 Academy League Finals Day at Allianz Park on Sunday 17th February. The top side in each conference will meet in the final, second from each will play off for third place, and third in each will play for fifth place overall.
Three games last weekend were postponed due to the weather, Sale Sharks v Newcastle Falcons and Worcester Warriors v Leicester Tigers in the Northern Conference and Exeter Chiefs v Harlequins in the Southern Conference. The two games from the northern conference have been declared draws, while a decision on the southern conference game is yet to be taken.
The decision to call the postponed Worcester v Leicester game a draw sealed Leicester Tigers’ place at the top of the Northern Conference table. It was their last game and they cannot be caught, so they will head to Allianz Park to defend the crown they won last year. The only tinge of disappointment will be that it spoiled their perfect five match points from every game record, for Worcester the reverse is true, it means the table no longer reads that all of their games have resulted in defeat.
Sale v Newcastle being declared a draw makes the battle for the other two places at finals day very interesting. Newcastle are in second on 17 points with Wasps 3rd on 15, tied with Sale in 4th. To make things even more interesting, Wasps host Newcastle Falcons on Saturday afternoon, and with Sale travelling to Worcester the likely scenario is that the winner of that clash at Wasps and Sale will head to finals day, assuming Sale get points against Worcester. Broadstreet RFC at 1.30pm on Saturday is going to be the one to keep a real eye on.
The other game in the Northern Conference sees Northampton Saints host Yorkshire Carnegie at Franklin’s Gardens. Saints lost heavily to Wasps last week and will be eager to bounce back, while Carnegie had a bye week.
The southern conference is tightly packed, and remains a little up in the air whilst a decision is made over the postponed Exeter v Harlequins game. Though realistically it will surely have to be declared a draw given that there are only eight days between these games and finals day.
Nonetheless, whatever happens there are four sides all with a chance of making finals day and in theory the final itself. Currently Bath and Gloucester are in the top two spots, level on twenty points, with Quins in third on 17 (though with that game in hand – a draw in that would put them on 19), and London Irish in fourth on 16 points.
The key game then is likely Bath v London Irish at 1pm on Saturday. The winner there will make finals day no matter what, and if it is Bath they will have a strong chance of topping the table entirely. London Irish could top it, but it would require 0 match points from Bath and a bad day at the office for Gloucester.
Gloucester will be hoping not to have a bad day as they travel to Exeter who have won just once all season. However, having suffered their first defeat of the season to London Irish last week, Gloucester will have to be on their game if they are to claim back to back spots in the U18 Academy League final.
The final game in the Southern Conference is a bit of a dead rubber in terms of chasing the top 3 but for Bristol Bears and Saracens it will be a big one. Bristol are looking for their first victory of the season, while Saracens will look adrift of the pack should they lose but as though they were right on the edge of a top 3 place with a win.
Harlequins do not play this weekend so their place in the Top 3 will be dependent on what happens elsewhere, though the decision over their postponed game against Exeter will also have an impact.
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U18 Academy League Round 7 Fixtures:
Northampton Saints v Yorkshire Carnegie – Saturday, 1pm, Franklin’s Gardens
Wasps v Newcastle Falcons – Saturday, 1.30pm, Broadstreet RFC
Worcester Warriors v Sale Sharks – Saturday, 1pm, Sixways
Bath v London Irish – Saturday, 1pm, Hilperton
Bristol Bears v Saracens – Saturday, 2pm, Clifton College
Exeter Chiefs v Gloucester – Saturday, 12pm, Flowerpot Playing Fields
U18 Academy League Finals Day – Sunday 17th February, Allianz Park
Round 6 Results:
Sale Sharks v Newcastle Falcons – Postponed (Draw taken)
Wasps 50-13 Northampton Saints
Worcester Warriors v Leicester Tigers – Postponed (Draw Taken)
Exeter Chiefs v Harlequins – Postponed
London Irish 27-22 Gloucester
Saracens 21-29 Bath
Round 5 Results:
Leicester Tigers 28-14 Yorkshire Carnegie
Newcastle Falcons 33-21 Worcester Warriors
Sale Sharks 48-22 Northampton Saints
Exeter Chiefs 7-49 Saracens
Harlequins 8-16 Bath
London Irish 62-12 Bristol Bears
Round 4 Results:
Leicester Tigers 27-24 Sale Sharks
Northampton Saints 10-41 Newcastle Falcons
Yorkshire Carnegie 5-50 Wasps
Bath 77-17 Bristol Bears
Gloucester 27-26 Harlequins
Saracens 31-19 London Irish
Round 3 Results:
Leicester Tigers 34-7 Wasps
Newcastle Falcons 22-14 Yorkshire Carnegie
Worcester Warriors 19-24 Northampton Saints
Bristol Bears 17-21 Exeter Chiefs
Gloucester 23-22 Bath
Saracens 12-26 Harlequins
Round 2 Results:
Northampton Saints 12-53 Leicester Tigers
Wasps 42-31 Worcester Warriors
Yorkshire Carnegie 19-19 Sale Sharks
Bath 64-7 Exeter Chiefs
Bristol Bears 14-50 Gloucester
Harlequins 43-26 London Irish
Round 1 Results:
Newcastle Falcons 14-66 Leicester Tigers
Sale Sharks 43-17 Wasps
Yorkshire Carnegie 31-12 Worcester Warriors
Gloucester 28-12 Saracens
Harlequins 48-0 Bristol Bears
London Irish 36-20 Exeter Chiefs