By Twm Owen
Twelve months of waiting, and hurting, can end for the South Wales Warriors on Sunday but to achieve redemption they must overcome a team in the exact same position.
Wales’ only representatives in the British American Football Association National Leagues face the London Blitz B in the Division Two Southern Conference semi-final and both sides know simply reaching the final will ensure promotion to Division One.
The game takes place, at Llanharan Rugby Club (2.30pm), just one day short of a year since the Warriors’ last defeat, also at the Dairy Field, at the hands of the Portsmouth Dreadnoughts at the semi-final stage.
The Dreadnoughts swept into south Wales as the number four seeds in the play-offs with the fancied, and unbeaten, Warriors ranked number one. All that counted for little though as the visitors ran out winners, 12-37, to clinch a final spot and seal promotion to the middle tier.
At the same time, 165 miles east, the unbeaten number two seeds Blitz B lost at home to Portsmouth’s divisional rivals the Hertfordshire Cheetahs, 32-44.
Failure to achieve promotion back to Division One at the first attempt consigned the Warriors to a further season in the bottom tier of variable quality and meant the team had slipped further away from its period as a Premiership club where it used to face the senior London Blitz side.
The Warriors, who are this year’s number two seeds, held their final training session on Thursday evening, with the club having been hoping to find game film of their number three ranked opponents.
But Warriors head coach Geraint Roberts, speaking after his side’s dominant 28-3 quarter final victory over the Bristol Apache, says the main focus will be on the things they can control: “The big thing is we’ve just got to play our own game and I think we’ve shown that today.
“We could have adjusted our game but we just decided to do what we know works best.”
For the Warriors that seems to be a focus on playing aggressively, on both sides of the ball, and wearing down their opponents through their running game.
With a depth of talent at the running back position the Warriors are able to call on fresh legs with Josh Hughes, Daniel Abbruzzese, Adam Hilton, Liam Thomas and Chris Rees all sharing the load.
On defence line backer Nate Webb typifies the team’s attitude as he enjoys hunting runners from the backfield as much as he does the ball when in pass coverage while Akeem Hallisey has proved too much of a handful for offensive lineman who’ve been unable to keep their quarterback out of the clutches of the pass rusher.
The defensive backs are led by Daniel Dacey who is a dangerous runner whenever he intercepts a ball and his skills are also used as a kick returner. The Warriors’ special teams are comfortable trusting the big boot of Irishman Mick Duncan as a place kicker and punter and he is also a crucial outlet for veteran QB Dean Jackson as a wide receiver.
The core of the Warriors squad was with the side when it was last in the Premiership in 2016. British American Football has been dominated by the Blitz and their city rivals the London Warriors who between them have featured in the senior BritBowl final 12 times in the last 13 years.
The South Wales Warriors had been unable to compete with the two London clubs while in the Premiership and suffered heavy defeats at the hands of both but it is likely they will be much more evenly matched with the Blitz B side. Since dropping out of the Premiership the Warriors have also rebuilt and are a better drilled and more confident side.
In their eight games this season the Warriors have scored 298 points and only allowed 54 against.
Though Division Two contains teams of varying quality the Warriors have won the South West division for two years when it has provided three play-off sides in both those seasons.
The Torbay Trojans, who this year again finished runners up to the Warriors, lost on the road to the Blitz B in the quarter-finals, 34-7.
Torbay had proved a tough challenge for the Warriors in the divisional title game, losing 10-6, but had conceded the advantage in their home fixture when the Warriors were convincing 14-48, winners.
At the Blitz’ Finsbury Park home the Trojans trailed 21-7 at the end of the first quarter but stopped their hosts from scoring again until the fourth quarter when they added a further 13 points.
Throughout the regular season the Blitz B had little trouble scoring, raking up 392 points in eight games and conceding just 59.
While the division contained the Hastings Conquerors, and the last year’s west whipping boys the Jurassic Coast Raptors, who are considered some of the weakest sides, Blitz B had to survive two close encounters, including an away 33-39 shootout, with the Bournemouth Bobcats.
The south coast side upset the applecart in the Division Two play-offs winning convincingly away, by 30 points to 6, at the higher ranked Norwich Devils side who, in last year’s quarter finals, lost 50-0 to Blitz B.
This Sunday on the 18th August sees the Warriors advance to the Semi Finals to take on the London Blitz B
The game will be played at home in Llanharan with kick off at 2:30pm.
Entry to the game is free and the clubhouse will be open for use. pic.twitter.com/da28RYSBWp
— South Wales Warriors (@swwarriors) August 14, 2019
The result of the Bobcats’ semi-final at the number one seeds, and also undefeated, Essex Spartans will be of keen interest as soon as the final whistle blows in Llanharan.
As both finalists will be promoted as of right a third promotion place, due to the Ouse Valley Eagles being relegated for forfeiting fixtures in two consecutive years, will be awarded to the highest ranked losing semi-finalist. With Essex the number one seed it means they have essentially secured promotion but if they are to reach the final, to be played in north London, the additional promotion place will go to the team that loses in Llanharan.