No change at the top of National 2 North, but it's still tight

Our preview focused on Garth Dew's return to Sedgley Park with his club Preston Grasshoppers. We were not disappointed with a game that was hard fought but with thrilling periods of play.

Hoppers denied by Tigers

Hoppers were denied a memorable victory after a late Sedgley Park try took the spoils in a hotly contested derby, however, 3 minutes before the Sedgley backs had worked an excellent move that put them over the line. Somehow they contrived to drop the ball. Hoppers should have killed the game but failed to keep their heads.

The Sedgley Park Tigers reporter was full of admiration for Hoppers, who put in a solid performance all around the park and were much improved over recent games but they were undone by a few small errors, missed tackles and simple mistakes.

Head Coach Garth Dew said: "It’s a massive disappointment not to win as this was a big improvement in performance and we thought we had done enough to win the game.

"We got our tactics right on the back of some hard truths and a lot of analysis in the week but some small errors like missing touch, feeding at the scrum and missed tackles cost us."

Hoppers started slowly and conceded the first try in the opening minutes as Ben Black touched down, but in truth there was a 3 man overlap and Sedgley’s first try was very nearly 'butchered'.

WEEK 6 RESULTS (Points in brackets)

Ampthill & District 25 (4) v 15 (0) Hull Ionians

Birmingham & Solihull Bees 22 (0) v 31 (5) Leicester Lions

Broadstreet 24 (1) - 28 (5) Harrogate

Caldy 31 (5) v 22 (1) Huddersfield

Hull 18 (0) v 27 (5) Stourbridge Saxons

Otley 30 (5) v 19 (0) Luctonians

Sedgley Park 33 (5) v 31 (2) Preston Grasshoppers

Stockport 6 (0) v 31 (5) Chester

The hosts dominated the early exchanges and when Jamie Harrison scored from close range midway through the half. The Sedgley scrum was very dominant.

In all Sedgley Park Tiger’s games this season the re-start has been their Achilles heel and sure enough, Hopper’s Ally Murray gathered the restart it was soon a level game as Chris Taylor powered his way over.

"Hoppers took the lead on the stroke of half time as Rich Morton got the third try after Woof put in a nice kick to put pressure on the home defence before a series of powerful set pieces laid the foundation, Lewis Allen converting all Hoppers scores," reported the Hoppers website.

The Tigers started the second half strongly and allowed Callum McShane to score pretty much untouched to level the scores but again Hoppers responded well from the restart forcing a scrum which Taylor drove into the 22 before superb support from Will Lees saw him collect a difficult offload before stepping the full back for a fine score.

The referee was a massive influence on the last 30 minutes of the game. He will be fast tracked by the RFU and shows great potential. However, he continually slowed the scrum down, at times taking 4 minutes for a scrum that was not being reset. This time wasting was frustrating for the crowd.

Hoppers were reduced to 14 men as John Embelton received a yellow card which was quickly followed by a Steve Collins try. On the hour mark the Tigers were camped on the Hoppers line and were dominating procession. Hoppers desparately defended the ruck with plenty of men off their feet.

At this point a Hoppers player was dangerously lifted by at least one Hoppers player and two Tigers players. Sedgley were also reduced to 14 as Liam West was shown a red card for dangerous play and minutes later an Allen penalty extended the lead to five points.

The reaction to the dangerous play was handbags between the four second rows. The tension was easy to see and on two occasions both sets of players resorted to handbags but it was most unsavoury and video analysis will be interesting.

The Hoppers team saw an opportunity and perfectly set a ruck before a beautifully executed drop kick looked like producing the winning points - but Sedgley’s Max Ashcroft managed a charge down.

Sedgley then piled on the pressure and after butchering a chance out wide they won a scrum against the head, which could have been avoided if a simple advantage was played, allowing Juan Crous to power his way over for the game winning try.

Harrogate at the last - again

Elsewhere, Harrogate visited Broadstreet with the Harrogate team facing a front row shortage.

However, Andy Boyde, Nico Nyemba and Ben Reaveley formed a heroic “gang of three” and played the whole game. Broadstreet made front row substitutions throughout but the Harrogate trio were in complete control in the final quarter and laid a solid foundation which was crucial to the win.

The Harrogate website reported that: "Irvine’s conversion gave Harrogate a seemingly comfortable 3-14 lead but Broadstreet responded strongly and mounted a series of attacks from which No8, Jack Gibbons scored a converted try.

"The home pressure continued and they set up an attacking line out when Harrogate were penalised in defence. A driving maul resulted in a converted try for Jamie Harrop to put Broadstreet 17-14 ahead at the interval."


Chester v Ampthill & District

Harrogate v Stockport

Huddersfield v Hull

Hull Ionians v Sedgley Park

Leicester Lions v Caldy

Luctonians v Broadstreet

Preston Grasshoppers v Birmingham & Solihull

Stourbridge v Otley

The restart seems to be an area of weakness for many teams in National 2 and this proved to be the case at Broadstreet. The Harrogate team decided to run a kickable penalty and the powerful Broadstreet winger, Jeff Gregson intercepted a pass near his own line and outstripped Harrogate’s defence for an outstanding length-of-the-field try.

Cooper’s conversion turned Harrogate’s equalising opportunity into a 24-14 home lead; Jake Brady’s inspirational captaincy spurred Harrogate on and, in the last move of the match, Irvine squeezed through desperate defence to score in the corner. There was an agonising delay while the referee consulted his assistant before awarding the try. Rowntree’s conversion put the icing on the cake.

This was the second successive week when Harrogate have won in the last move of the match. This speaks volumes for their team spirit and Bottomley’s after match comment summed up the situation: "What are we going to be like when we start to play well?"

Ampthill win top-of-the-table clash

To conclude the wrap up of National 2, we turn our attention to the two top teams, Ampthill and Ionians. It was the Hull team that headed south.

A's started strongly by securing the kickoff and driving the visitors back into their own 22 eventually forcing Ionians to concede a 2nd minute breakdown offence penalty which was duly converted by fly half Joseph Tarrant.

The hosts were soon back on the attack, a series of phases deep in Ionians 22 eventually saw a 5m lineout. The catch and drive was at first stopped but Ampthill regrouped, drove again eventually resulting in an 11th minute try wide on the right by openside flanker Joseph Bercis, converted by Tarrant.

A forced pass by Ionians was intercepted by A’s Darrell Dyer just outside his 22. Sprinting for the line,  he crossed wide on the right for a 14th minute unconverted try.

Ionians pack were winning their ball in the lineout but were under pressure at the scrummage, while the home side showed a lack of control of phase play when in promising positions. Despite both sides' sweat, there was no further score leaving Amps leading 15-3 at the half time break

Although A’s opened the second half with a penalty, Ionians responded with their best period of play putting their hosts under pressure with multiple phases in their opponents 22 eventually leading to an unconverted 67th minute try.

A's pack seemed highly charged after losing their 10 to injury and seeing Ionian’s flanker red carded.

14 phases of play after the resumption and it was A’s second row Paino Hehea running in under the posts, converted by Brendan Burke.

Ionians did mount a comeback in the final minutes, good possession and continual gaining of territory allowed the visitor’s winger to go over for a try.

The Ampthill website provided post-match comments from the respective coaching teams. Firstly it was Hull Ionians coach Alex Crockett  who commented, "Ampthill were more streetwise, they starved us of ball and their older, wiser heads prevailed despite a fantastic effort from our lads."

Ampthill DoR Mark Lavery added: "We didn't play to our usual standard but still did enough to secure the points and deny them anything, it's already time to move on and focus on next week at Chester which will be another very tough challenge."

So at the end of a fascinating weekend the top three are still as they were but the gap between second and third.

Next week it is second versus third. With Sedgley Park Tigers winning ugly this week and Ionians suffering a defeat, we cannot wait for next weekend’s clash.

Ampthill & District 6 6 0 0 5 0 29
Hull Ionians 6 5 0 1 5 0 25
Sedgley Park 6 5 0 1 4 0 24
Chester 6 4 0 2 3 1 20
Caldy 6 4 0 2 2 1 19
Harrogate 6 3 2 1 1 1 18
Stourbridge 6 3 0 3 3 2 17
Preston Grasshoppers 6 3 0 3 2 2 16
Otley 6 3 0 3 1 2 15
Leicester Lions 6 3 0 3 2 1 15
Huddersfield 6 2 1 3 1 2 13
Hull 6 2 1 3 0 0 10
Luctonians 6 1 0 5 3 3 10
Birmingham & Solihull 6 1 0 5 2 3 9
Broadstreet 6 1 0 3 1 0 5
Stockport 6 0 0 6 0 1 1

National League Rugby