There were important bonus-point wins for both Peterborough Lions and Borough in the English Clubs Championship this afternoon (February 7).
The Lions overcame Cheshire outfit Sandbach 31-23 at Bretton Park to maintain their push for a promotion play-off place in National League Division Three while Borough saw off Oakham 35-22 at Fengate to move out of the relegation zone in Midlands Division Two East (South).
The Lions were far from convincing winners though and for much of the match were second best. Already minus star number eight Darren Fox through injury, the Lions received a further setback when skipper Chris Humphrey, who was playing in Fox’s position in the middle of the back row, had to retire on 24 minutes suffering from concussion.
After his departure, and he is an excellent player, the Lions lost their way a bit and were dominated up front for much of the remaining hour.
Full-back Reggie Reid also went off injured after 29 minutes and prop Manny Van Niekirk, who was carrying a shoulder injury, lasted only one half.
It all added up to a disjointed Lions effort and they were mightily relieved to emerge with five points.
Chairman Andy Moore was beaming from ear to ear afterwards.
“We certainly played a get-out-of-jail card there,” he said. “We didn’t play at all well and yet, against a very good Sandbach side, we emerged with a win.
“We had to dig deep for that, really deep, and fair play to the lads that came in - players like Dean Elmore, who’s only 17. They faced up to the task and we pulled it off.
“I said beforehand that we couldn’t afford to lose at home and when the chips were down they all rallied to the call. Fantastic. I’m chuffed to bits.”
Sandbach were first to get points on the board with a 24th minute penalty but soon after, and very much against the run of play, the Lions grabbed their first try.
An incisive counter-attack mounted by Reid and Adam Barnard put Sandbach on the back foot and from a scrum five metres out Humphrey smashed his way over for the touchdown which Will Carrington converted.
Sandbach then applied a massive amount of pressure and a second penalty made the interval score 7-6 to the Lions.
The Lions were very slow out of the blocks in the second half and Sandbach stormed in for a forwards’ try, which was converted, to go 13-7 ahead.
The next 10 minutes turned out to be decisive as the Lions stunned the visitors with three tries from deep on the counter-attack.
The first came from Carrington after a thumping tackle by Vernon Horne dispossessed Sandbach and sent Barnard away on a jinky little run, the second from Duncan Low after more good work by man-of-the-match Barnard, Wade Schoeman and Carrington, and the third was a 60-yard interception try by young Elmore.
Carrington converted all three and suddenly the Lions had established a 28-13 advantage despite seeing little of the ball.
But Sandbach refused to lie down and ran in two tries of their own to bring it back to 28-23 and set up an exciting finale.
The excitement boiled over with a minute to go as Jaco Steenberg was illegally upended by a Sandbach player and a 20-man brawl broke out. Sandbach had a player sent off, the Lions were awarded a penalty and Carrington put the issue beyond doubt - at least on the scoreboard. On the balance of play it wasn’t a true reflection of the game.
Two brilliant tries midway through the first half by centre Rob Jacobs proved to be the turning point for Borough.
They were trailing 10-7 when Jacobs charged through twice in the space of two minutes to give Borough a 21-10 lead.
Chris Sansby scored the first Borough try and then just before half-time Angus Milton went over. With Joe Andresen converting all four tries, Borough led 28-17 at the turnaround.
Sansby crossed again in the second half after a storming run down the right wing and Andresen, who kicked splendidly all afternoon, added the extras again.
Oakham scored a third try close to the final whistle.