Matt Williams’ side seal a place in the third tier after a pulsating victory over Sedgley Park
For the second year running, a team from the south created a new chapter in the National Two play-off as Chinnor prevailed against Sedgley Park to reach National One for the first time.
Twelve months ago, Old Elthamians took their first steps into the third tier of English rugby and Chinnor will be following suit after their 40-31 victory on Saturday afternoon.
A sun-drenched Oxfordshire provided the setting for two of the most exciting teams in the National Leagues to do battle and this play-off clash didn’t disappoint.
In the end, the hosts triumphed. “Awesome” is how Chinnor’s Director of Rugby Matt Williams described the win, but both teams served up a superb spectacle as this contest went down to the wire.
With a total of 2121 points scored between the two sides across the course of the season, the supporters at Kingsey Road were always going to be in for a treat and some of those fans would have followed Chinnor’s journey right from the beginning.
They were established in the 1960s and up until this weekend, the Black and Whites had never made it past the fourth tier. In 2006, Chinnor were promoted into the National Leagues and after Williams took charge of the club three years ago, the ambition was to push for National One.
Following a tough first season for Williams – where Chinnor battled to avoid relegation – the Oxfordshire club sent out a message last year after being embroiled in a title race.
For a large chunk of the season, it looked as though Chinnor would take the next step into National One, but a few blips in their campaign saw them miss out on a top two finish altogether.
— Chinnor RFC (@ChinnorRugby) April 30, 2017
But, Chinnor didn’t dwell on that frustration. They dazzled this term and even when they suffered a setback, they responded as they went on to seal second place.
Chinnor knew they were on the brink of something special, but there was one final hurdle to overcome.
Sedgley Park arrived at Kingsey Road in blistering form. 14 wins from their final 15 matches saw them surge into the play-off for the first time since 2016 in Matt Bebbington’s maiden campaign at Park Lane.
It has all come down to this…
Our National Two play-off build-up begins with a look back at the season for both Chinnor and Sedgley Park plus a little history lesson in between.
— NCA Rugby (@nca_rugby) May 1, 2018
Reaching the top two was never going to be easy for Bebbington’s side, but their rampant performances and expansive style guided Sedge to the play-off, but it was not a happy ending for the Manchester-based club.
Following an excellent 52-14 win over Clifton last week, Chinnor once again looked in control at Kingsey Road after tries from Bertie Hopkin, Josh Barton, Luke Hibberd and George Oliver gave them a 30-10 lead in this play-off.
Steve Collins had scored all of Sedge’s points in the first period and Bebbington’s side mounted a fightback as Matt Riley and Hallam Chapman both crossed.
Chinnor kept their cool to claim the next score as Ben Manning darted over, but Sedge hit back once again through Max Skofic to cut the lead to four points with less than five minutes remaining.
But, Chinnor showed resilience and refused to crack. The Black and Whites went back on the attack and were rewarded as Oliver crossed for his second score to begin the celebrations for the home side.
Jack Ramshaw and Tom Ranaboldo delivered excellent performances in the second-row for Chinnor, while Manning was a commanding presence.
The afternoon started with Sedge in control of possession as the visitors created a couple of early inroads to put Chinnor under pressure.
The back-lines for Chinnor and Sedge were rightly talked about in the lead up to this game, but it was from a rolling maul where the first try was scored as the ball was moved out wide for Hopkin to dive over.
Sedge reduced the lead to 5-3 as Collins landed a penalty, but intelligent play from Barton saw him sneak over. Jonny Bentley landed a simple conversion and after a positive start from Sedge, they now had work to do.
After scoring 35 points last week, Collins was always going to be key for Sedge in this play-off clash and some tidy footwork and a great turn of speed from the fly-half allowed him to scoot over, but Chinnor responded with a Bentley penalty before delivering a huge blow to Sedge’s chances either side of the interval.
Hibberd intercepted a pass to score on the stroke of half-time before another Bentley penalty and a rumbling try from Oliver put Chinnor 20 points in front.
However, Sedge raised their game and Chinnor found themselves under the cosh.
Both Riley and Chapman were clinical and two quick-fire tries restored hope in the Sedge ranks as they cut Chinnor’s advantage to six points.
But, Chinnor’s nerves were settled just after the hour as Manning ran a brilliant line to race through the Sedge defence to touchdown.
It was all about game management for Chinnor, but Sedge refused to be beaten as Skofic rounded off a tidy move for the visitors to make it 35-31.
The game was set-up for a grandstand finale, but rather than Sedge applying waves of attack, it was Chinnor who capitalised on a line-out to allow Oliver to dot down and seal Chinnor’s place in National One.
Chinnor: Hopkin; Barnes (capt), Nawaqaliva, Hibberd; Bentley, Barton; Cano, Price, Gilding; Ramshaw, Ranaboldo; Oliver, Bordill, Manning.
Replacements: Mason, Bingham, Bradley, Goodfellow, McDonald
Sedgley Park: A. Riley; Lowthion, Bedlow, M.Riley (capt), Harrison; Collins, McShane; Ashcroft, Maher, Rushton; Birtwell, Needham; Goodman, Lees, Champman
Replacements: Woodward, Allen, Skofic, Holloway, Lloyd
Man of the Match: Jack Ramshaw (Chinnor)