A whole host of teams fighting to stay in their respective divisions collected points in Round 20 while title ambitions were strengthened and weakened in National Two North and West. (Photo Credit: Leo Wilkinson)
Esher enhanced their chances of staying in National One as they scored seven tries to eventually defeat 14-man Cinderford 47-35.
The Foresters had Mason Tonks sent off after 33 minutes but still held a 35-26 lead thanks to doubles from Harry Hone and George Boulton.
However, scores from Harvey Scott, Dan Rowland and Matt Lowes saw the EEEs turn this contest around as Peter Winterbottom’s side remain two points above the relegation places.
Their victory at Dockham Road could prove to be even more valuable after table rivals Taunton Titans ran in 11 tries to beat the division’s bottom club – Hull – 73-18 at Veritas Park.
Flanker Charlie Wright helped himself to a hat-trick while Jordan Petherbridge, Isaac Dalton, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, Connor Banks, George Gosling, George Worboys and Shai Bonnick also got in on the act.
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Defeat for Hull leaves them 30 points from safety with 35 left to play for while Taunton are now level on points with Chinnor, who currently sit directly above the drop zone.
Nick Easter’s men – who do have a game in hand – are only outside the bottom three because they have drawn more games than the Titans this term and in Round 20, Chinnor fell to a 27-17 loss away at title-chasing Sale FC.
Fellow promotion candidates Rams RFC and Cambridge also managed to secure bonus-point wins but both clubs had to come from behind.
League leaders Rams fought back from 12-0 down and 21-17 down to claim victory over Birmingham Moseley – with Max Hayman sealing the win with his hat-trick four minutes from time – while a trio of scores from Cambridge’s Matt Hema helped the Blood and Sand turnaround a 21-7 deficit to beat Rosslyn Park 50-28.
Bishop’s Stortford ended Plymouth Albion’s eight-match winning run at Brickfields as a blistering start in Devon set the platform for a 24-12 success while Leeds Tykes – who currently sit 10 points from safety – were once again on the wrong end of a tight scoreline as they were edged out 27-25 by Darlington Mowden Park.
National Two North
The National Two North title race experienced its latest twist as Tynedale emerged with a 32-12 victory over promotion challengers Fylde.
The Lancashire club had begun the afternoon one point behind league leaders Sedgley Park but now find themselves six points adrift of the summit ahead of their meeting with The Tigers this coming Saturday.
Connor Wilkinson scored a try in each half for the visitors, but they were never in front in the North East.
Alex Dryden, Josh Leslie and Rob Parker went over for Tynedale – who arrested a run of three straight losses – while the latter also kicked eight points from the tee.
Sedgley Park took full advantage of Fylde’s mishap but were made to work hard for their 35-31 bonus-point success against Wharfedale. Danny Maher grabbed a hat-trick for the table-toppers while a late brace from Dale full-back Louis Verity secured The Greens two points.
In terms of the battle to avoid the drop, Preston Grasshoppers were able to collect two bonus points in their 37-31 defeat to Chester. Hoppers displayed their character to come from 19 points down to depart Hare Lane with something to show for their efforts and they are now 12 points clear of the bottom two.
The current occupants of the relegation places are Harrogate and Blaydon who both suffered setbacks in Round 20. After a bright start, the Yorkshire outfit lost 31-13 at Otley while a simply stunning performance from Sheffield’s Elliott Fisher condemned Blaydon to a 64-5 defeat.
The scrum-half scored four tries and kicked seven conversions to help the home side to victory while the result leaves the North East club 18 points from safety with six games to play.
Meanwhile, Hull Ionians (4th) beat Sheffield Tigers 17-10 at Dore Moor while Kian Stewart scored four of Huddersfield’s five tries in their 39-27 win over Rotherham Titans while brother Finlay grabbed the other at Lockwood Park.
National Two East
Rochford Hundred picked up their first win in just over two months as they defeated Canterbury 28-26 to boost their hopes of staying in National Two East.
Canterbury back-rower Harvey Furneaux and the hosts’ Tauren Henwood traded tries before Will Young gave the visitors the lead heading into the break.
Three penalties from Chris Dudman brought Rochford level before Rory Gray and David Irvine swapped scores.
But tries from Sam Cappaert and Ben Cooper would prove to be the difference as the former’s was converted while Canterbury were unable to add the extras to their score five minutes from time.
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Danny Cleare’s troops are one point clear of the drop zone after rivals North Walsham beat bottom-of-the-table Westcliff 57-15, with winger Shaun Blyth scoring a hat-trick. The latest loss for Westcliff leaves them 32 points from safety and it means they could be relegated this coming weekend if results don’t go their way.
Sevenoaks – another club who are batting to secure their status in this division – were left crestfallen in Round 20 as they fell to a late 35-31 defeat at home to an in-form Bury St Edmunds.
Adam Bowman’s side had led 24-7 and 31-21 in this contest but a score by Ciaran Lesson and a try three minutes from time from Ewan Kingdon stole the victory for the Wolfpack. It leaves the Kent outfit three points above the dreaded dotted line.
As for the race for promotion, league leaders Blackheath maintained their razor-sharp focus as they defeated Henley Hawks 50-28 at Well Hall, with Markus Burcham scoring a brace. Matt McLean starred for second-placed Worthing Raiders as the full-back scored a hat-trick and kicked seven conversions in a 59-12 win over Guernsey Raiders while Toby McRae notched another trio for Dorking (3rd) in their 36-26 success against Old Albanian.
Elsewhere, the prolific Alex March was once again amongst the scorers for Barnes who beat Tonbridge Juddians 33-7.
National Two West
League leaders Leicester Lions took what could prove to be another significant step towards the National Two West title thanks to a 24-14 win over fellow promotion candidates Clifton (2nd) at Station Road.
James Stubbs and Alex Wilcockson both scored tries to put the Lions in front at the break, but Clifton replied before the hour as Zac Ward and Brad Talbot drew them level.
A Ben Young penalty nudged Leicester’s noses in front before Isaac Thompson’s try one minute from the end secured a 15th successive victory for Gareth Collins’ side.
It might be the most important win in that sequence as the Midlands club now hold a 16-point lead over Clifton in the standings with just six games to go in the campaign.
There were also some huge results towards the bottom of the division as Bournville recorded their first win of 2023 as they defeated relegation rivals Barnstaple 17-13 away from home.
In a feisty encounter at Pottington Road, the Chocos still managed to exit Devon with a victory despite receiving four yellow cards and having winger Ethan Walker sent off just before half-time. The win for Mitch McGahan’s men means they are now two points from safety with a game in hand still in the bag.
It was also a profitable Saturday for Newport (Salop) as tries from Chris Perry and Matt Hubbart saw them secure two bonus points despite losing 31-28 away at Exeter University.
But, it was an even better afternoon for both Hornets and Old Redcliffians who moved further away from trouble following excellent wins. Strong spells at the beginning of both halves ultimately proved to be enough for Hornets to claim a narrow 46-41 triumph over Hinckley while a try from Sam Rees and the boot of Ashley Groves guided Old Reds to a superb 14-13 success against Redruth.
And last but certainly not least, third-placed Dings Crusaders came out on the wrong side of a thriller against Loughborough Students as the Midlands outfit prevailed 47-45 while Stourbridge picked up a losing bonus point in a 17-10 defeat to Luctonians.