The 2016/17 AASE League kicks off this Wednesday, with Hartpury College looking to defend the title that they have won in each of the seven years of its existence.
It is a difference challenge that faces Hartpury this year through as they switch from the Northern Conference to the Southern Conference following the addition of Bishop Burton College to the North.
The first challenge for Hartpury is to face the side that they beat in the 2014/15 final, St Paul’s Catholic College. The South also includes a new side, with Exeter Chiefs affiliate Exeter College replacing last year’s losing finalists, Bicton College. Exeter College were one of the founding members of the AASE league.
The change in the league means that the South has eight teams in it, while the North has seven. Therefore each week there are four games in the south and three in the north with one different side in the north having a bye week each round.
Newcomers Bishop Burton are the first to have a bye week, they do not kick off until next week, where they will face Worcester 6th form College away.
Worcester 6th form College have a fiendishly difficult task before that though as they travel to the Leicester Tigers affiliated Wyggeston & Queen Elizabeth I College, who finished second in the table behind Hartpury last year, in only their first season in the league. They will have serious ambitions to reach the final this year.
Elsewhere Gosforth Academy will host Myerscough College on the artificial surface at Newcastle Falcons’ Kingston Park, while Moulton College host Saracens affiliates Oaklands College.
Back in the South, as well as Hartpury v St Paul’s and Exeter College v SGS Filton College, last year’s newcomers Beechen Cliff face Ivybridge Community College. Beechen Cliff struggled a little in their first year, however their side was dominated by younger players however this year, with a year’s experience under their belts, they will be looking to really push on.
Finally in the south, Henley College host Truro College, both sides impressed in patches last year and will be looking to crack on this year and challenge for the major positions.
The structure of the league this year sees the teams play each of the other sides in their respective conferences once, before the league splits after half term, with the top four in each conference playing the other sides from the top four of their conference once more, and the same in the bottom half of the split.
Finals day then takes place at the end of November, with the top sides from each conference playing each other at Allianz Park on Wednesday 30th in the final, while each of the other sides play their respective opponents from the other conference, so second plays second, third plays third, and so on. The only side not to play on finals day will be the eighth side in the south as there are only seven in the north.
It looks set to be another strong season in the AASE league, the only question is, as ever, can anyone end Hartpury College’s dominance?
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AASE Round 1 Fixtures (31st August) – Predictions in bold
Wyggeston & Queen Elizabeth I College v Worcester 6th form College
Gosforth Academy v Myerscough College
Moulton College v Oaklands College
Hartpury College v St Paul’s Catholic College
Beechen Cliff v Ivybridge Community College
Exeter College v SGS Filton College
Henley College v Truro College