Sandal unable to spoil Billingham’s promotion party as unbeaten run ends

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Sandal’s seven-match unbeaten run came to an abrupt end when they visited Regional One North East League leaders Billingham.

The table toppers had been the last team to lower the colours of a Sandal team that has been much improved in recent weeks and took the honours again with a 45-7 result, writes Howard Newton.

Sandal had to travel without a number of their key players, including James Ellar, Austen Thompson, Joey Allott and Tommy Allott, who were all unavailable for one reason or another.

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Even with a full side the prospect of competing with Billingham at home was always daunting, particularly in the knowledge that the side only needed a bonus point victory to secure promotion into National League Two North next season.

Sandal RUFC battled in vain against league leaders Billingham. Picture: Scott MerryleesSandal RUFC battled in vain against league leaders Billingham. Picture: Scott Merrylees
Sandal RUFC battled in vain against league leaders Billingham. Picture: Scott Merrylees

The weakened side Sandal never gave up, however, and defended their line gamely for most of the game against an aggressive side, doing well to keep the score to 45.

From the kick-off it soon became apparent that Billingham had strength and ability in their armoury in that it only took five minutes for the side to score an unconverted try and take the lead.

A second try and conversion soon followed before an 18 minute period when Sandal defended well with the help of several relieving penalty kicks to touch.

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But with the line-out not producing clean ball attacking moves were easily countered to the point that Billingham crossed again in the 27th minute to take the score to 19-0.

Sandal were now playing catch up rugby – a difficult prospect in the circumstances. The game continued with the exchange of penalties and field positions, but the visitors’ progress was hard earned since the side found it difficult to break through a tight Billingham defence.

With half-time only a minute away the home side mounted another attack through one of their sizeable lock forwards who made a 40-metre dash for the line to score a bonus point converted try that made it 26-0 at the interval.

The second half started in a similar vein to the first until the 47th minute when Sandal found touch with a penalty and from the ensuing line-out their maul was illegally brought down to give them a penalty try and a yellow card to Billingham, taking the score to 26-7.

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Sandal continued to defend stoically with several try saving tackles, but were not able to save three further Billingham tries in the 53rd, 70th and 77th minutes that gave the home side a well deserved promotion victory.

It was a disappointing result for Sandal after a run of five victories during which time the side had shown an ability to overcome the better sides in the league. But giving credit to those who played they gave of their best but unfortunately fell short.

Sandal slipped to sixth place with this result and will be looking to get straight back on the winning path when at home to eighth-placed Ilkley this Saturday.

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