Midlands 1 West

Stoke-on-Trent 8

Whitchurch 14

Coach Scott Sturdy says it’s too early to talk of the promotion play-offs after Whitchurch stepped up their chase for runners-up spot in the Midlands 1 West with a victory at Stoke-on-Trent.

Whitchurch look likely to finish at least fourth after opening up a 17-point gap on fifth placed Stoke following their win in a windswept affair in the Potteries. It was their 16th win in 21 games.

“It was quite a scrappy match, with both defences on top,” said Sturdy. “Stoke don’t lose many at home, so we’ve got to be happy to go there and win. We had the better moments, more ball and more chances.

“Our scrambling defence was excellent, and the back row of No 8 Jake Rees, Jonathan Cope and Matt Owen deserve a special mention.”

With the wind at their backs in the first half, Stoke drew first blood with a penalty, but Whitchurch got their noses in front with the first of their two tries.

Wing Jed Towers followed up a kick upfield, forcing the covering home defence to take the ball over the line. After being frustrated from the first scrum, Whitchurch scored at the second attempt with No 8 Rees touching down as the pack drove forward.

Fullback Tom Skone added the extras, and went close to increasing the lead with a long range penalty that struck the post.

The second half remained a tightly-fought affair, with both sides struggling to make much headway against strong covering defence.

But the Reds exploited one good position when they broke blind from a scrum, with Rees feeding scrum half Ricky Allman who drifted through the defence before slipping the ball to Joe Mullock on the wing to touch down. Skone added the conversion.

The visitors finished with 14 men after having centre Henry Hockenhull harshly sin binned for a high tackle, and Stoke capitalised to go over in the corner from the last play to gain a deserved consolation.

As they enter the final straight of the season, the Reds will look to keep up the pressure on the sides above them when they return for a home game at Edgeley Park on Saturday.

“They had a good 23-8 win against Sutton Coldfield on Friday night, so it’s going to be another tough game,” added Sturdy, who faces some selection choices with Danny Nicholas, Mike Gardiner, Matt Davies and Jack Furnival all back in contention. No 8 Jake Rees, however, is unavailable.

Whitchurch Seconds, meanwhile, returned to winning ways in the Sale Sharks North West League division two south with a 40-25 success against Didsbury and Toc H Seconds at Edgeley Park.

Next time out, Whitchurch host Stourbridge Lions on Saturday.