Sandbach handed league debuts to three players – George Cole, Ryan Arundale and Ben Salisbury – as the team opened its league campaign with a visit to newly-promoted Leek.
The conditions were ideal for running rugby and, as anticipated, the home team was full of confidence after a couple of strong seasons, which had seen them climb the leagues (writes Paddy Davenport).
In the end Leek ran out narrow victors; the much-changed Bach outfit showed glimpses of what they can do but didn’t quite hit the levels they knew they were capable of. Sandbach’s failure to put points on the board when they were in scoring positions also proved crucial.
Leek started the better as Sandbach failed on a couple of occasions to effectively exit, resulting in the north Staffordshire outfit opening the scoring after 10 minutes when second row Tom Hayes took advantage of a charged down clearance kick to score the first try.
Scrum half Joe Byrne converted and then increased the lead with a penalty five minutes later for a 10pt margin.
Sandbach slowly began to assert themselves by using their driving maul effectively and reduced the deficit on 30 minutes with a simple Jack Williams penalty.
Unfortunately this resulted in the loss of Bach’s influential flanker Ali Burton, who had taken a blow in the build-up to the score. Sandbach had their moments but lacked the required precision, which perhaps was not surprising, given their changes and stage of the season and so at half-time they remained at 10-3 down.
Sandbach started the second half better, but again mistakes at critical moments were proving costly. The driving maul continued to be effective for Sandbach, with Leek’s Ed Cheadle going to the bin for pulling it down. As Sandbach continued with this tactic, Leek’s Joe Gorman was also yellow carded, and the Bach’s numerical advantage finally told, as Max Beadle drove over to make it 10-8. Jack Williams mistimed his conversion attempt to hook it wide.
Both teams had their periods of pressure, but each failed to make the most of them, making errors at critical times. However not for the first time, Sandbach failed to clear their line and Leek again took advantage, as number eight Gorman was driven over. Another Byrne penalty 10 minutes later stretched the lead to 18-8.
Sandbach reduced the deficit as winger Jack Williams collected a loose Leek pass and outsprinted the cover defence to score in the corner, but the home team were able to hang on as Sandbach looked to snatch it at the death, in a game that could have gone either way on another day.
With injuries already mounting, Sandbach will need to dust themselves down for the visit of promotion favourites Blackburn to Bradwall Road on Saturday.
Having lost out on advancement last season by the narrowest of margins on points difference, Blackburn will be keen to avenge their defeat to the Bach at home in February, which effectively ruined their campaign.
Certainly Sandbach will be looking to eradicate some basic errors and get their fabled high-energy game going, as the new young players settle in and start to gel.
Saturday, 2nd September: Anselmians 22, Manchester 22; Blackburn 62, Northwich 15; Kendal 33, Stockport 24; Leek 18, Sandbach 13; Penrith 24, Macclesfield 33; Rossendale 61, Wirral 33.
Saturday, 9th September: Manchester v Kendal; Northwich v Anselmians; Rossendale v Leek; Sandbach v Blackburn; Stockport v Penrith; Wirral v Macclesfield.