With just five matches remaining, fine margins separate the title challengers while the scrap for survival in National One changed direction once again. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Knight)

National One

Sale FC (10th) once again proved to be the nemesis of title challengers Rams RFC (2nd) as a 36-19 victory at Old Bath Road dented the promotion ambitions of the hosts.

Winger Mark Dixon scored twice while Nathan Langdon, Fergus Mulchrone and Tom Walsh also crossed as Sale stretched their winning streak against Rams to six matches.

Jak Rossiter and Max Hayman scored first-half tries for Rams, with Drew Humberstone also going over nine minutes from time.

This result for Sale was their fifth success from their last six games and Jonathan Keep’s troops are now 11 points clear of the bottom two while for Rams, the end of their excellent recent form leaves them playing catch up.

That is because title rivals and league leadersย Chinnor (1st)ย ensured they picked up all five points away at Plymouth Albion (7th) as a try two minutes from time clinched a 26-5 win. All of this means Nick Easter’s side now hold a five-point advantage at the summit with five matches left to play.

At the other end of the table,ย Bishop’s Stortford (11th) once again boosted their survival hopes with a crucial victory over bottom-of-the-division Taunton Titans. Five second-half tries sealed a 45-26 win for Marcus Cattell’s side who are now three points clear of the drop zone.

Cinderford (13th) have fallen into the relegation places after they were beaten 26-14 away at third-placed Birmingham Moseleyย while Leicester Lions (12th) are just above the dreaded dotted line following their 35-7 loss at Rosslyn Park (4th).

Elsewhere in Round 21,ย Richmond (5th)ย celebrated the 160th anniversary of their fixtures against Blackheath (9th) with a 22-13 triumph on Friday night while Louie Johnson’s last-gasp penalty snatched a 34-31 victory for Darlington Mowden Park (6th)ย at Sedgley Park (8th).

National Two North

Billingham (12th) ended a run of 14 games without a win as they defeated Sheffield Tigers (7th) 30-19 to move out of the danger zone in National Two North.

Will Baker crossed early on for the Tigers, but a yellow card shown to Louis Townsend was punished emphatically by Billingham as man-of-the-match Michael Whinn and Conner Foley went over with Ryan Foreman kicking two conversions and a penalty.

After the break, the hosts stretched their 17-7 lead through tries from Matt Kirby and Edward Graham before Sam Wager replied on 66 minutes.

And despite a late try from Will Archer, Billingham had done enough to record their first victory since October.

It means the North-East side have traded places with Hull Ionians (13th) once again after the I’s were beaten 42-17 away at title-chasing Rotherham Titans (2nd). Billingham are now only outside the danger zone because they have won one more game than Hull Ionians.

As for Rotherham, a 10th successive bonus-point win has kept the pressure on table-toppers Leeds Tykes who dug deep away from home to beat Wharfedale (4th) 12-8. Pete Seabourne’s side chalked up their 21st victory in a row and remain unbeaten, but Rotherham’s maximum means they have shaved Leeds’ advantage to five points.

Elsewhere, the boot of Greg Smith and some excellent defence helped Fylde (5th)ย defeat Sheffield (3rd) 23-22 and Tynedale (6th) held on to beat Otley (9th) 26-22 while Preston Grasshoppers (10th) and Lymm (11th)ย were able to pick up important wins.

Hoppers thrashed bottom-of-the-table Huddersfield 70-19 with Lymm securing back-t0-back home victories for the first time this season after seeing off Hull 28-22.

National Two East

Tonbridge Juddians (5th) provided the first major twist in the National Two East title race as they beat table-toppers Esher 24-20 to end the 13-match winning run of the league leaders.

Behind 15-0 after 15 minutes, the hosts ultimately sealed victory in the final quarter with Will Holling burrowing over after James Botterill’s second try of the afternoon had initially nudged Esher in front.

This was a fourth home success on the bounce for TJs and a first loss since October for the EEEs.

Peter Winterbottom’s side had flown out of the blocks thanks to scores from Botterill and Will Inglis but a try from Duncan Tout and second-half efforts from Holling and Shadyn Osgood saw the hosts move 17-15 in front.

From there, both teams traded scores but in the end, the league leaders fell to a defeat and now their advantage at the summit is down to a single point.

Esher do have a game in hand, but rivals Barnes (2nd)ย andย Dorking (3rd)ย kept the pressure on as both secured maximums in Round 21. Barnes battled back to defeat Old Albanian (10th) 32-20 away from home while a second-half hat-trick from Toby McRae saw Dorking display their recovery powers as they beat Bury St Edmunds (6th) 33-29.

It was also a special day at Bury St Edmunds, with the club marking the 50th anniversary of the Paris air disaster.

Elsewhere across National Two East, Henley Hawks (4th)ย returned to winning ways as they dispatched Worthing Raiders (12th) 29-19, Sevenoaks (8th) punished a Wimbledon (13th) red card to secure a 22-13 home victory and Guernsey Raiders (11th) also experienced success on their own patch as they ran in five tries to see off Westcombe Park (9th) 33-14.

Meanwhile, North Walsham’s time in this division is almost up as the league’s bottom club were eventually consigned to a 41-12 loss at Canterbury (7th).ย It means Niall Lear’s youthful side must avoid defeat against Esher in Round 22 otherwise their relegation will be confirmed.

National Two West

Luctonians (1st)ย responded to their defeat to title rivals Dings Crusaders at the first time of asking as they sealed a 27-7 bonus-point win away at Camborne (6th).

Ben Link’s opening try and further scores from Caleb Montgomery and Charlie Grimes had the visitors 20-0 up at half-time. The league leaders tightened their grip on proceedings when Owien Harriott-Davis dotted down while Camborne could only manage an effort from Harry Larkins as Lucs departed Cornwall with all five points.

Ryan Watkins’ men still hold a two-point advantage at the top after Dings (2nd)ย ran in nine tries to hammer Bournville (12th) 59-10, extending their unbeaten run to 16 games.

At the bottom, Dudley Kingswinford (13th) added a try bonus point to their survival bid but they could do nothing to stop Chester (10th) scrum-half Harry Craven who scored four tries in a 55-31 win for the Cheshire outfit.

The outcome at Hare Lane means DK are now technically eight points from possible safety with Newport (Salop) 11 points adrift after they were hammered 66-12 by Loughborough Students (9th).

Elsewhere,ย Clifton (3rd)ย and Old Redcliffians (7th) united for the #TryForEllis campaign and also produced an entertaining derby with the hosts prevailing 38-24 while Exeter University (4th)ย beat Reduth (8th) 20-13 and Hornets (11th) full-back Charlie Carter was once again on song as he helped his side defeat Hinckley (5th) 41-12.

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