Great win but it's getting even closer at the bottom.
By Stuart Battersby
Three teams on 46 points and one to go down
Sandbach pulled off a vital win in their quest to keep out of the relegation zone, but with other teams picking up bonus points, it couldn’t be much tighter, with just points difference separating three sides from the final relegation position. Given the importance of the games, it was perhaps not surprising the Bradwall Road team was a little disjointed, with injuries, refereeing decisions and unforced errors all adding to the drama of the game.
Sandbach started strongly, playing into a stiff breeze and clearly had the upper hand early on in the scrummage, exposing Bournville’s recent injury difficulties with their front five forwards. However in Bournville’s first incursion into the Sandbach half after ten minutes, they were awarded a penalty which fly half Alex Warner duly slotted over. Sandbach hit back immediately when a high tackle on flanker Ali Burton, saw the first yellow card of the day and Benny Elliot stroked over the first of what would be many penalties for him in the afternoon. The result of the tackle though left Burton heavily dazed and soon after Andy Nash replaced him for the rest of the game.
Sandbach though were trying to take advantage of their extra man, but with the fullback in the line, a pass didn’t go to hand and the leagues top try scorer Rob Eatough was on it in a flash, to hack the ball forward and win the chase to the line and for Warner to add the conversion. Sandbach hit back with Elliot’s second penalty, but virtually a carbon copy of the first try, gifted Eatough his second, as he outpaced the covering defence once again, with the crowd complaining bitterly that he had started his chase from an offside position. Warner again added the conversion before Elliot pulled back another penalty, just before half time and crucially Bournville again went down to fourteen men with their second yellow card. This time Sandbach did take advantage of the extra numbers with hooker Tom Herd crossing to score with the last play of the half , Elliot adding the conversion to turn round, all very close 16 v 17 at the half.
With the wind behind Elliot added another couple of penalties but with club captain Stockdale leaving with a hamstring strain and Burton already off, there was a major reshuffling of the Sandbach pack and their previous forward dominance appeared to disappear. At this stage Sandbach came under intense pressure and were perhaps fortunate to get the benefit of a couple of refereeing decisions as first Bournville was adjudged to have not grounded the ball correctly and then were deemed to have fallen just short of the Sandbach try line. Elliot then released some of the tension as he added another penalty but soon after Herd received a yellow for not rolling away in the tackle, to create yet more difficulties for the home side.
With second row Chris Davenport leaving the field with what later proved to be a broken hand, Stockdale returned and crucially claimed the decisive try when Bournville’s scrum came under pressure. Elliot once more knocked over the conversion and despite Bournville hitting back with a late consolation try, Elliot topped off a 100% kicking day with a long distance drop goal, to complete the scoring.
Overall Sandbach will be relieved with the points but will know there is still work to do to ensure national league rugby again next season. Injuries to key players are going to test their character and resources and next week’s challenge against current table topers Broadstreet will certainly be a big test in their battle for survival.
League leaders Broadstreet visit Bradwall Road next week. Is a surprise result on the cards?