Friday, 2 March 2012

BUAFL: Robin Hood Bowl - NTU Renegades @ Nottingham Outlaws

The Friday Night Lights of the Harvey Hadden Stadium will shine upon the Nottingham Varsity clash this week, with both sides entering the game knowing that a win will earn them both bragging rights and – more importantly – a likely place in the Challenge Trophy.

After six inches of snow cancelled the pair’s original Super Bowl Sunday date, it originally looked as though the game would have to be sandwiched into a midweek afternoon slot or played as a double-header, but the league’s decision to extend the regular season has given this clash a date and occasion worthy of its significance.

Even without all the trappings that the Varsity banner brings, the game is of huge significance to both teams.  In the ultra-competitive MAC – where the last year’s top four of Birmingham, Loughborough, Derby and NTU has been gatecrashed by the Outlaws and Northampton – the final plate slot should be decided by Friday night’s result.

With both sides expected to win their second “Extra Week” fixture on Sunday – NTU hosting DMU, while Nottingham travel to Coventry – a win for either side should see them into the Plate.

The nominal home side for this game, Nottingham, enter their penultimate regular season match off the back of consecutive shut-out victories, the most recent coming last Sunday against the previously unbeaten Northampton Nemesis.  With observers from Loughborough – rooting for an Outlaws win to all but eliminate Northampton from Championship contention – and NTU on the sidelines, the Outlaws raced into a three score lead before resting key starters ahead of the upcoming games.

Now sitting at 4-2, that result means that a win on Friday night would guarantee the Outlaws a Challenge Trophy slot, giving them the opportunity to look ahead at a potential trip to the Northumbria or Bangor in the opening round of the postseason.

NTU meanwhile are 3-3 following last Saturday’s 35-7 loss to Loughborough Aces, and know that nothing less than a win will do as they look to reach the Challenge Trophy for the second successive season.

The Blue and Pink do have Varsity history on their side, having won both of the last two clashes between the two teams.  American duo Danny Miller and Eric Moat are the key men in their offence, particularly given the rib injury sustained by quarterback Adam Grant in last Saturday’s game.  Their defence is built around the veteran presence of safety Chris O’Dea, ably assisted by linebacker Andrew Wilkes and corner back Marcus Boswell.

Under the leadership of Head Coach Justin Smith and Offensive coordinator Simon Denning, the Outlaws offence has begun to put up some good performances in recent weeks after a slow start to the season, with Andre Mathers equalling the split-institution receiving touchdown record set last year by Ben Brenner.

With a full house expected at the Wigman Road stadium, this game has the makings of yet another BUAFL classic.

Key Players

Danny Miller (RB) – It couldn’t really be anyone else.  After moving from defence to offence in pre-season, Miller has carried the bulk of the Renegades attack in 2011/12, and will no doubt have his number called all night long.

The defence – A bit of a fence sit this one, but consecutive shut-outs have boosted Nottingham’s spirits, and they will look to defensive end Declan Foley to counter the threat posed by Miller, Fodor et al.

The Permutations 

If Nottingham win:  Nottingham are guaranteed fourth spot in the MAC, and may improve to third if they beat Coventry on Sunday and Northampton lose to Lincoln.  NTU are eliminated from post-season contention.

If NTU win: Both teams are on 4-3, and fourth spot will be decided on Sunday.  If both teams win on Sunday, NTU finish fourth on the head-to-head tie-break.

If the game is tied:  Nottingham are also guaranteed fourth spot with a tie.  Even if they subsequently lose to Coventry and NTU beat DMU (putting both teams on 4-3-1), Nottingham have the tie-breaker over NTU due to their win over Derby giving them a better record against common opponents.

Venue and admission

Harvey Hadden Stadium, Wigman Road, Bilborough, Nottingham, NG8 4PB

Admission is free, but with a suggested donation of £2 to Cerebral Palsy Sport, which is this year’s chosen charity for the Varsity series.


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