The National Two East and West league leaders finished the job in Round 23 while at the other end of the scale, Harrogate and Stourbridge had their respective fates sealed. Photo Credit: (Leicester Lions)
Esher concluded March by moving out of the National One relegation places as they clinched a late 27-26 victory to deny Hull their first win of the campaign.
Sam Morley’s penalty three minutes from time snatched the spoils for the EEEs, who are now three points clear of the drop with three matches remaining.
Despite Hull already having their relegation confirmed, the Yorkshire outfit haven’t downed tools and led 16-12 at the break thanks to a try from Timoci Waqadau and 11 points from Reece Dean.
Sam Bullock and Harri Lang had crossed in the first period for the visitors, and both sides exchanged scores when Ben Atkins and Mike Adlard went over.
Esher then got their noses in front when Afolabi Fasogbon touched down on the hour, but then it became the tale of two penalties.
Reece Dean’s nudge made it 26-24 with 15 minutes to go but Morely kept his cool to clinch the win for Esher and leave Hull crestfallen.
A first win in exactly a month means Peter Winterbottom’s men have jumped out of the bottom three at the expense of Taunton Titans after the Somerset outfit were beaten 59-21 by league leaders Rams RFC.
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After having two weeks to stew on their loss to Plymouth Albion, the table-toppers unleashed a reaction and they had the bonus point in the bag before half-time and scored five further tries in the second period.
Title rivals Sale FC and Cambridge kept the pressure on but both had to overcome tricky assignments in Round 23.
The North West side found themselves 10-7 down to Darlington Mowden Park but capitalised on the hosts’ penalty count to win 35-10 while third-placed Cambridge battled to a 19-17 victory over Chinnor thanks to second-half scores from Steff James and Seb Brownhill.
As a result, it means six points separates Rams and Sale FC (2nd) ahead of their mouth-watering clash at Heywood Road this coming weekend.
Bringing things back towards the bottom of the table, Leeds Tykes’ survival hopes are hanging by a thread after they fell to a 29-21 loss against Birmingham Moseley.
Not for the first time this term, Jon Callard’s side suffered a narrow defeat and after leading 21-17 with eight minutes to go, Freddie Painter and Dan Lewis both scored for the Midlands club to leave the Tykes on the brink of relegation.
Elsewhere, Rosslyn Park came out on top in an entertaining battle as they beat Plymouth Albion 41-32 while it was also a nip and tuck affair at Silver Leys with Bishop’s Stortford edging past Cinderford 19-18 to move up to fifth position in the standings.
National Two North
Harrogate have been relegated from National Two North after they lost 24-12 to Tynedale at Rudding Lane.
Alex Dryden’s try helped the visitors into a slender 7-0 half-time advantage but Rupert Scrase responded shortly after the break for the hosts.
However, a second for Dryden and one for James Telford delivered a hammer blow to Harrogate’s survival hopes and despite Martyn Wood’s men staying in touch via Ben Raubitschek, a late Seamus Hutton try sealed their fate.
The result also meant Preston Grasshoppers’ place in this division for next season was confirmed after they picked up two bonus points in defeat against Hull Ionians.
Alex Keay’s side had led 26-7 at one stage but The I’s were inspired by Lewis Minikin as the Yorkshire outfit flipped the game on its head to secure a 33-29 victory.
At the top, hat-tricks from Adam Mallinson and Andy Riley helped league leaders Sedgley Park move a step closer to the title as they beat Huddersfield 38-14. Promotion rivals Fylde also recorded a maximum as they defeated Sheffield 45-14, with Tom Carleton scoring his 100th try in 126 National League Rugby appearances.
The gap at the top remains at 12 points but Fylde still have a game in hand to come against Huddersfield on April 29th.
Elsewhere in National Two North, thoughts of the summer break seemingly haven’t entered the thoughts of already relegated Blaydon as they produced a fine display to register a 36-17 win against Chester while Rotherham Titans sealed back-to-back home successes for the first time since November after beating Otley 28-21 and Sheffield Tigers edged past Wharfedale 10-9 at The Avenue.
National Two East
Blackheath secured an immediate promotion back to National One by romping to a 94-17 win over Westcliff.
‘Club’ knew that a bonus-point victory at The Gables would see them return to the third tier at the first time of asking and a thoroughly professional performance allowed them to seal the title.
Westcliff did put up a spirited fight and trailed 31-12 at the break after James Rea and James Smith had gone over but Blackheath dominated from that point.
Jake Lloyd had scored a hat-trick in the first half – with Freddie Owen and Andrew Denham also crossing – and the winger added a fourth to his tally in the second period.
Jake Hennessey (3), Denham, Nick Foster, Alex Harris (2) and Tom Stradwick all joined the party in a rampant display while Westcliff were able to get a third via Ethan Tyler late on.
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With the race for promotion now wrapped up, the fight for survival rages on in National Two East. In terms of the ‘relegation candidates’, only Rochford Hundred were able to scoop up a point in their 50-31 loss to Guernsey Raiders.
That result for Danny Cleare’s boys means they are now two points clear of North Walsham, who remain in the final relegation spot after losing 48-19 against Dorking. Jamie Knight’s side had led 19-10 at half-time but the irrepressible Toby McRae helped himself to four tries across the afternoon to leave the Norfolk club empty-handed.
Sevenoaks also failed to add to their points tally as they were beaten 28-14 away at Henley Hawks while Canterbury – who are eight points clear of the danger zone – fell to a third straight defeat following a 35-21 loss to Old Albanian.
The battle to stay in this division will only intensify this coming weekend with North Walsham travelling to Sevenoaks.
Also in National Two East in Round 23, Barnes recorded a sixth win on the spin as they came away from Bury St Edmunds with a 31-14 victory despite having Louie Kirkham sent off while Tonbridge Juddians beat Worthing Raiders 26-12 after both sides were also shown a red-card apiece.
National Two West
Leicester Lions have created history as they clinched promotion to National One for the first-ever time after beating Loughborough Students 33-5 at Westleigh Park.
Gareth Collins’ men needed just a victory to seal the title and a 17th successive win means the Lions will be plying their trade in the third tier next year.
It was a very neat and tidy display from the hosts as Oli Taylor and Nick Carins went over before the interval and despite Calum Smyth replying for the Students after half-time, the newly crowned champions were unfazed.
Devon Constant, Cairns and Dan Martin dotted down in the second period to spark the celebrations in the Midlands.
There were contrasting fortunes for Stourbridge, as one of the mainstays of National League Rugby had their relegation confirmed after losing 34-33 to Bournville.
Neil Mitchell’s side knew they would be down if they lost or drew at Avery Fields and despite Jack Lea scoring a hat-trick on his 150th appearance for the club, the hosts managed to seal a narrow win meaning Stour’s two decades in the National Leagues have come to an end.
Bournville’s victory leaves them nine points clear of the drop zone with a game in hand after Barnstaple could only manage a losing bonus point in their 18-12 defeat to Redruth. The Chiefs are still battling and are certainly not giving up the fight, but know their destiny is out of their hands.
Hornets have all but booked their place in National Two West for next season after they rallied to pick up two bonus points in their 31-24 loss at Dings Crusaders while Newport (Salop) have secured their spot in this division for 2023/24 despite falling to a 33-29 home defeat to second-placed Clifton.
Elsewhere, Luctonians moved into the top four following an excellent 40-12 win over Hinckley while for the second week running, Old Redcliffians rescued another result as a late try from Dom Sprague earnt them a 24-24 draw with Exeter University.