If you’re seeking some end-of-season drama, look no further than the National One title race while the fight to stay in National Two East is as equally as gripping. (Photo Credit: Colin Fisher)
Sale FC (2nd) added the most significant twist to the title race to date as they secured a bonus point 35-12 win over league leaders Rams RFC at Heywood Road.
An intercept try from James McRae had put Rams ahead, but a yellow card to skipper Robbie Stapley was punished by Sale as Tom Walsh and Ben Bamber galloped over to make it 14-7.
Sale hooker Josh Brown dotted down just after the restart before Nev Edwards’ interception score sent the home crowd wild. Ellis Jones did cross for Rams but another intercept – this time from James Robins – ended the game as a contest.
With Jonathan Keep’s side picking up all five points and Rams departing the North-West empty-handed, it means only one point separates the top two with just two games to go in the season.
The result between Rams and Sale now means third-placed Cambridge are unbelievably in control of this promotion fight after they hammered Leeds Tykes 75-10.
Richie Williams’ men are five points behind Rams, but crucially, they have a game in hand over their rivals against Birmingham Moseley on April 29th.
If all three title challengers collect bonus-point victories from their remaining fixtures, it would be Cambridge who would gain promotion to the Championship.
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Rams and Cambridge would complete the season with 114 points and both clubs would have won 22 games. However, the Rugby Football Union’s regulations state: A Club with a larger number of draws shall be placed ahead of a Club with the same number of League points and wins but with a fewer number of draws.
As it stands, Rams have drawn none of their matches while Cambridge’s 17-17 draw with Leeds Tykes back in December could prove to be the deciding factor.
Cambridge’s win over Leeds Tykes at the weekend means the Yorkshire club had their relegation confirmed but the fight for survival continues to be as gripping as the battle for promotion.
Excellent victories in Round 24 for Esher (31-13 v Bishop’s Stortford) and Taunton Titans (57-26 v Rosslyn Park) means the gap between the two sides is now just two points, with Taunton currently occupying the final spot in the bottom three.
Defeats for Birmingham Moseley (33-24 away at Plymouth Albion) and Darlington Mowden Park (43-34 away at Cinderford) mean both clubs are still looking over their shoulders. Moseley are seven points above the drop zone with a game in hand while DMP are now just six clear of the dreaded dotted line.
To add a further layer of drama to this compelling National One narrative, after the Easter break, Moseley host Taunton while Darlington Mowden Park entertain Esher in the North-East.
Elsewhere in National One, Nick Easter’s revival of Chinnor was completed on Saturday afternoon as a hat-trick from Will Cave helped the Black and Whites beat Hull 41-15 to confirm their safety in the third tier.
National Two North
Sedgley Park’s hopes of promotion to National One took another step towards becoming a reality after they beat Sheffield 38-17 at Abbeydale Park.
First-half tries from Tom Ailes, Danny Maher and Andy Riley helped Scott Barrow’s troops to a 19-5 lead, with Matt Adcock going over for the hosts.
Sedge’s control of proceedings continued after the break as a brace from Jamie Harrison and one for Matt Riley secured the bonus point.
Sheffield did respond via Christian Hooper and Kieran Hatter but The Tigers weren’t to be denied, and now they require a victory in their next game at home against Sheffield Tigers to be crowned champions.
Fylde are making sure the champagne stays on ice for now as the second-placed side battled past Sheffield Tigers 33-30 to stay within 12 points of Sedge. The Lancashire club will be hoping for a hiccup from the table-toppers but they must also focus on their own job when they host Otley on April 15th.
Hull Ionians are looking to nail down third spot in National Two North and in Round 24, they came out on the right side of an 18-try thriller as they beat Harrogate 72-40 while Callum Irive’s penalty snatched a late 25-24 win for Otley (4th) against Wharfedale.
Meanwhile, Rotherham Titans made it three wins on the spin as they got the better of Chester 38-28 at Hare Lane, Tynedale ran in seven tries to beat Huddersfield 47-17 and Preston Grasshoppers continue to climb the standings after they defeated Blaydon 33-21 to secure a fourth successive home triumph.
National Two East
Matt Hodgson’s late penalty, which went over off the uprights, snatched a dramatic and potentially vital 24-23 win for North Walsham against relegation rivals Sevenoaks.
The Norfolk outfit began the afternoon in the bottom two and two points from safety but Hodgson’s match-winner right at the death means Jamie Knight’s side are now one point clear of the drop.
Sevenoaks had led 17-14 at the break as tries from Jonathan Short, Josh Pettet and Shadyn Osgood outweighed a brace from Charlie Fethney.
Ben Adams’ penalty extended the advantage for the home side but Connor Dudley’s neat score put North Walsham in front on 58 minutes.
Adams was off target with two penalties but when Jack Martin took over the kicking duties, he landed his effort to make it 23-21 with eight minutes to go. However, there was to be late drama as Hodgson’s effort clanged the woodwork before falling the right side of the posts to clinch the win.
That result at Knole Paddock means Rochford Hundred have dropped into the final relegation place despite picking up a losing bonus in a 22-17 defeat against Henley Hawks.
A late try from Munashe Muzuzu means Danny Cleare’s men are now one point from safety and next up for Rochford is a trip to North Walsham on April 15th while Sevenoaks – who are three points clear of the relegation zone – go to Tonbridge Juddians (8th).
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Canterbury no longer have to worry about the scrap for survival after Matt Corker’s men confirmed their safety with a strong 41-24 win over Guernsey Raiders while towards the top of the division, the battle for second place continues.
Barnes – the current occupants of the silver medal spot – spoiled Blackheath’s coronation as they beat the champions 21-10 to stretch their winning run to seven matches, while Worthing Raiders (3rd) defeated Westcliff 52-29 and centre Henry Anscombe’s faultless display from the tee guided Dorking (4th) to a 44-24 victory against Tonbridge Juddians.
Five points separate those three clubs and Barnes still have to play Worthing on the final day.
Elsewhere, a Matt Bursey double helped Bury St Edmunds turn it around against Old Albanian as Jacob Ford’s side remain on course for their best-ever finish in National League Rugby following a 27-24 win.
National Two West
Barnstaple’s hopes of remaining in National Two West next season took a major hit in Round 24 after they were beaten 38-17 by Loughborough Students.
The relegation-threatened visitors trailed 31-3 at the break after tries from Tomiwa Agbongbon, Silas Pill, Charlie Briers, Oli Crane and Fin Doyle.
Centre George Barber then rammed home Loughborough’s advantage and despite scores from Gavin Mitchell and Brandon Moore, the Chiefs are now nine points from safety with two games remaining. It means if rivals Bournville pick up two points from their final four matches, Barnstaple will be relegated.
There was better news for Hornets even though they fell to a 33-29 loss to Old Redcliffians as the Weston-super-Mare outfit were able to secure two bonus points which confirmed their place in this division for next season.
The battle of Bristol for second place in National Two West is an interesting end-of-season storyline between Clifton and Dings Crusaders.
Clifton (2nd) overcame a spirited Redruth in Round 24 to clinch an 18-10 win while the boot of Tom Wilstead guided Dings to a narrow 20-17 success away at fifth-placed Hinckley.
Meanwhile, Luctonians are looking to lock down fourth spot and took another step towards doing just that as Aiden Cheshire’s hat-trick helped them to a 27-15 win against Newport (Salop). Bournville’s meeting with Exeter University was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.