The race for a place in the Championship will go to the final day as Rams RFC, Sale FC and Cambridge all secured maximums while in National Two North, Sedgley Park roared to the title and the fight to beat the drop dominated the narrative in National Two East and West. Photo Credit: (Andrew McCumiskey)
Rams RFC kept their promotion ambitions alive as the league leaders recorded a 38-28 victory over sixth-placed Cinderford.
Seb Reynolds’ troops know the destiny of the National One title is out of their hands but they flew out of the blocks at Old Bath Road as James McRae, Ollie Cole and Axel Kalling-Smith crossed for the hosts.
Cinderford’s Nathan Taylor and George Porter did dot down either side of half-time to make things slightly edgy in Berkshire, but despite receiving four yellow cards during the afternoon, Rams were able to add to their three earlier scores, with Kalling-Smith, Ollie Monye and Connor Stapley touching down.
Taylor and Mike Wilcox went over for the away side to clinch a try bonus, but this was a major tick in the box in terms of Rams’ promotion hopes.
Second-placed Sale FC also collected a bonus-point victory as they beat Rosslyn Park (4th) 33-19 away from home.
It represented an eighth straight win for Jonathan Keep’s side who remain just one point behind Rams heading into the final day.
With both sides swapping tries via Fergus Mulchrone and Henry Robinson, Sale’s James Harper barged his way over to give the title contenders a half-time advantage.
Joe Luca-Smith’s surging score levelled up proceedings in the capital but at 12-12, Sale took the game away from their hosts as efforts from Jordan Tebbatt and Oli Longmore – either side of a penalty try – proved to be enough for the win.
Dan Laventure did cross with two minutes to go but Sale’s excellent recent run means they still have a shot at promotion to the Championship.
But it is third-placed Cambridge who are currently in possession of the keys to the second tier as their thumping 82-12 success over Hull means they need two further bonus-point wins from their final two matches to be crowned champions.
📺 The National League Rugby Review Show: Round 25
— National League Rugby (@Natleague_rugby) April 17, 2023
This 12-try victory included a hat-trick for Ben Brownlie, while Kwaku Asiedu and Matt Williams both scored twice. Kieran Frost, Anthony Maka, Joe Tarrant, Will Priestley and Stef James also got in on the act.
So heading into the final day, five points still separates the top three sides. Rams go to Esher this coming weekend, Sale FC host Birmingham Moseley and Cambridge travel to fifth-placed Plymouth Albion.
If Cambridge don’t pick up a bonus-point win in Devon, it would open the door for Rams or Sale to win the league this Saturday.
However, if Richie Williams’ men are successful against Plymouth, it means the Blood and Sand would need to collect a bonus-point win from their game in hand against Birmingham Moseley on April 29th to secure the title.
It is as equally as intense towards the bottom of the division but both Birmingham Moseley and Darlington Mowden Park secured their safety in Round 25 following victories over Taunton Titans and Esher, respectively.
Mose edged past Taunton 32-31 at Billesley Common following a pulsating second period while a hat-trick from Yaree Fantini helped DMP to a 25-20 success over Esher.
As it stands, three teams will be relegated from National One and with Hull and Leeds Tykes already down, there is still one place remaining.
Taunton’s two bonus points away at Birmingham Moseley weren’t enough to lift them out of the bottom three but they head into their final day meeting with Leeds Tykes (H) one point from safety.
The team they are trying to hunt down are Esher and Peter Winterbottom’s charges know if they match or better Taunton’s result at the weekend, they will be safe but that is easier said than done with promotion-chasing Rams travelling to Molesley Road.
To add to all of this, there is the possibility that in the event of no relegation from the Championship, only two teams will go down from National One – a decision that is pending an RFU Council Meeting this week – but currently, three sides will be relegated to National Two.
Elsewhere in the third tier, Plymouth Albion will head into the final weekend still with a chance of finishing in the top four as they came from behind to beat Leeds Tykes 36-21 in Yorkshire while after signing a contract extension last week, it was double delight for Chinnor Director of Rugby Nick Easter after he saw his side defeat Bishop’s Stortford 34-26 away from home.
National Two North
A side which will be joining National One next season will be Sedgley Park as they clinched the National Two North title after beating Sheffield Tigers 80-14 in a scintillating display at Park Lane.
Scott Barrow’s side knew just a victory would see them return to the third tier for the first time in a decade but Sedge were determined to go out in style.
Their professionalism shone through as they ran in 12 tries with captain Matt Riley scoring four while Andy Riley, Rhys Henderson, Joe Bedlow, Danny Maher, Tom Ailes, Jacob Tansey, Tane Valu Bentley and Jamie Harrison all joined the party.
It meant Fylde’s battling 28-10 victory over Otley wouldn’t have a significant impact on the destination of the title but nevertheless, Chris Briers and Alex Loney’s side did maintain their unbeaten home record for the season.
The Lancashire club have also finished in second spot with Hull Ionains almost guaranteed the bronze medal after hammering Tynedale 59-7 at Brantingham Park.
Rotherham Titans’ strong finish to the season continued at Clifton Lane as the fifth-placed side beat Preston Grasshoppers 38-7 – with Jack Hedley scoring a brace – while Wharfedale secured back-to-back wins as they saw off Chester 39-22.
Elsewhere, Elliot Fisher starred as the scrum-half scored 21 points in Sheffield’s excellent 51-15 away victory at Huddersfield and Blaydon’s Chidera Obonna came off the bench to score a decisive hat-trick in their 31-22 win over Harrogate.
National Two East
Relegation was the theme in both National Two East and West but it might not be an experience North Walsham will have to endure as the Vikings picked up a crucial 31-28 victory over rivals Rochford Hundred.
The Norfolk outfit began the afternoon one point clear of Rochford – who occupied the final relegation spot – and the home side flew out of the blocks as Connor Dudley, a double for James Knight and a penalty try put them 24-0 up after 22 minutes.
But Danny Cleare’s side have shown their powers of recovery in recent weeks and displayed them once again at Norwich Road as tries from Rob Gardner, Maciu Nabogi and Mark-David Ikhifa turned the game on its head.
However, Rochford’s four-point lead only lasted a couple of minutes as Dudley’s second proved to be enough for North Walsham to seal the victory.
The result means North Walsham require just one point from their final game of the season away at Canterbury to confirm their spot in National Two East for next season while Rochford’s two bonus points means they are still a single point from safety.
— North Walsham RFC (@NorthWalshamRFC) April 16, 2023
The Essex outfit host eighth-placed Tonbridge Juddians this coming weekend and they will hope that rivals Sevenoaks – who are now just one point clear of the drop – slip up against bottom-of-the-table Westlcliff on the final day.
Sevenoaks’ 22-6 derby day defeat against the aforementioned Tonbridge Juddians in Round 25 means Adam Bowman’s side must match or better what Rochford Hundred do to stay in level four.
At the top, Blackheath showed exactly why they are heading back to National One as the champions smashed their way to a 54-5 win over Worthing Raiders. The victory was their 13 successive maximum at Well Hall while defeat for Worthing means they can no longer finish in second.
That is because Barnes were able to nail down the silver medal spot after coming from behind to beat Old Albanian 28-21 while Dorking are closing in on third after a flurry in the final quarter helped them to a 46-7 victory over Westcliff.
Elsewhere, Bury St Edmunds remain on course to achieve their highest-ever finish in National League Rugby following a 35-19 win over Guernsey Raiders while Nigel Dudding’s final home game as Director of Rugby at Henley Hawks ended with his side recording a fifth straight victory as they beat Canterbury 33-24 at Dry Leas.
National Two West
In terms of National Two West then, Bournville have confirmed their safety after coming out on the right side of a 46-38 victory against Hornets.
The Midlands club knew just two points from their remaining four matches would be enough for them to stay up and three tries in the opening quarter from Rhys Williams, Ethan Walker and Michael Ho set them on their way.
Kieran Ward had dotted down for Hornets while a try apiece for Jamie Harding and Chris Francis kept the scoreboard ticking.
But this entertaining contest got even more interesting as scores from Ayden Chenoweth, Ward and Connor Vickery – with Owen Williams going over in between for Bournville – made it 39-38 with 17 minutes left to play but Harding’s second for the Chocos steadied the ship as Mitch McGahan’s side sealed their spot in National Two West.
There was a small chance Barnstaple could delay their fate from being sealed for another week after they collected a bonus-point 47-31 victory over Stourbridge but despite Will Topps’ excellent hat-trick, it wasn’t enough for the Chiefs to avoid relegation.
Elsewhere, newly crowned champions Leicester Lions recorded their 19th consecutive win as they defeated Exeter University 40-5, while the battle for second place will go to the final day of the season.
Dings Crusaders are now the occupants of the silver medal position after a stunning performance from Bristol Bears loanee Tom Wilstead.
The fly-half scored 29 points – including a hat-trick of tries – as the Crusaders sealed their fifth straight success and their triumph saw them leapfrog Clifton who lost 35-26 away at Luctonians (4th) who were able to record their highest-ever finish in National League Rugby.
Also across National Two West, Old Redcliffians continued their eye-catching end to the season by racking up the half-century in a 54-26 win over Hinckley while Loughborough Students prepared for this week’s BUCS Super Rugby university final with a 33-31 triumph away at Redruth.