Whitchurch 15 Old Saltleians 7
Whitchurch moved top of the Midlands Two West (North) on points difference after maintaining their winning start to the campaign with a hard-fought 15-7 success over Old Saltleians at Edgeley Park.
Tries in each half from wing Tom Thornton and replacement second row Matt Owen proved enough to see off their battling visitors, with Tom Skone kicking a conversion and penalty.
The Reds now face a crunch top-of-the-table clash on Saturday away to arch rivals Crewe and Nantwich who, having also been relegated last season, have also won their first two league games this term.
And it will be a clash that coach Scott Sturdy is relishing, as he called for more improvements.
“I’m expecting a very tough game as they are one of the sides you’d expect to be challenging,” said Sturdy.
“Old Saltleians was another win; that’s four out of four in competitive games, but it was disappointing that we didn’t score more points and get a bonus point with the amount of possession and territory we had.
“They were difficult to break down. They are well organised with some big guys, and are a spoiling side who get a lot of bodies in the breakdown.
“We struggled to get a tempo and cutting edge. After making changes, the second half was a lot more encouraging. We made some good breaks, and we should have put more points on the board.
“But the pleasing aspect was that we defended a lot better, apart from when we were caught sleeping for their try from a quick tap penalty on the 22.
“Against Crewe and Nantwich we will need to put both sides of our game in place - both in attack and defence.”
Despite labouring in the first half against Old Saltleians, the Reds drew first blood with wing Thornton making an interception before launching a 60-metre run into the corner, the conversion being missed.
The Birmingham visitors hit back with a converted try from a quickly taken tap penalty with the Reds caught napping, before the first half became an increasingly frustrating stalemate.
However, Whitchurch gained some impetus in the forwards following the introduction of replacements Tom Hale, in the front row, and second rower Matt Owen, which led to the first of two yellow cards for Old Saltleians following some illegal defending.
No8 Jack Furnival also came on for the second period, with the newcomer proving a handful as the home side looked to shake off the shackles.
The Reds began to rediscover their cutting edge, and scored a second try with Steve Bloore taking the ball off the shoulder of Tom Davies before feeding Owen to touch down, Skone converting.
Stone then added a penalty to increase the lead to 15-7 and Old Salts rarely looked likely to retrieve the situation.
Andy Oakden, Ian Gillespie and Furnival all made terrific breaks, but the hosts were unable to finish off against some desperate defence.
But they had done enough to take the spoils, although they will be all aware that this weekend’s opponents Crewe and Nantwich will prove a tougher proposition.
The replacements, who made a favourable impression, are pressing for a start, while the Reds will be pondering whether to include versatile fly half Callum Mokaraka, a new arrival at the club from Australia.
Mokaraka, 20, featured for Whitchurch’s second string who returned to winning ways in the North West League division two south with a 45-17 beating of Aldwinians Seconds.
They are away to Altrincham Kersal Seconds on Saturday – the first of three games on the road.
The third team’s poor run continued as they were downed 54-7 at home to Northwich Thirds in the North West League division four (south).
After three defeats, they will be out to bounce back at home to Sandbach Thirds on Saturday.
n Whitchurch, who won 40-38 away to Ashbourne in the first round RFU Senior Vase, will now meet another Derbyshire side, Matlock, at home in the second round on Saturday, October 7.
It means their North Mids Shield quarter-final clash at home to Edwardians will be put back to another date.
See full story in the Whitchurch Herald