Sandbach’s move up the Midlands Premier table was checked by Newport, who edged a hard-fought win at the Old Showground on Saturday. There was no lack of effort or enterprise by the Sandbach boys, but games like these are won and lost by fine margins. Sandbach had gone into the game buoyed by last weeks excellent win over league leader Birmingham & Solihull and though having opportunities, in the end they didn’t quite have the precision, to snatch another dramatic victory.
Playing with the slope and gentle breeze in their favour, Sandbach were quick out of the blocks, scoring after just three minutes. Benny Elliot made the initial incursion, from a set play, picking up a neat offload from centre Joe Gammage, and drawing the Newport fullback to put winger Elliot Morris in at the corner. Sandbach then moved further ahead when Gareth Caen, following a penalty kick to the corner, forced his way over from a driving maul. Benny Elliot knocked over the conversion and then struck over a tremendous penalty goal from far out, for Sandbach to be fifteen points up after fifteen minutes.
Slowly though the home outfit were starting to make inroads, with wave after wave of hard physical carries by their sizeable pack, Newport getting on the scoreboard with a simple penalty from fly half Monty Maule. Then as Sandbach kicked the restart straight into touch, to concede field position, Newport made them pay, with a trademark break from centre Hendry Vaka, who following a quick interchange of passes with his winger Hughes, saw the big Fijian cruise in under the posts. Maule added the extras. Sandbach had the chance to extend their lead, but unfortunately Elliot pushed the penalty opportunity wide. Newport again then surged back, once more relying on their big power runners, taking the lead when having been held up, under the Sandbach posts, they bundled over from the resulting scrum. With Maule converting Newport were 17 v 15 ahead but Sandbach again had the chance to inch ahead with a penalty, the effort once more agonisingly wide. Elliot did knock over another attempt, just before the break, to enable Sandbach to go in with a narrow lead, at the close of the half.
With the elements now in Newport’s favour, they started the half strongly and regathered the lead with a try from scrum half Brown, who nipped round the blind side on a catch and drive lineout. Maule again converting. Once more Sandbach had a penalty attempt, also just missing and this was to prove critical. After this both defences generally appeared to be on top and with few line breaks made. Sandbach did rally at the end, as tensions grew, and the home side’s big men began to blow. Sandbach were rewarded with a series of penalties and resulting kicks to the corner and though Newport went down to fourteen in their desperate attempt to keep Sandbach out, they just about hung on, to their noticeable relief.
Despite the defeat there were many positives in the way Sandbach played, which was another fine advert for matches at this level. Sandbach did have the consolation of a losing bonus point and would have been pleased with their reduced penalty count in the game. Sandbach can take heart and will look to bounce back, when they travel to Bridgnorth next week, for another potentially difficult away fixture.