Bradford & Bingley 5, Sale 26
After a display that included too many errors, Bradford & Bingley have one last chance to avoid relegation from SSE National League Three North.
On a day when the slide rules will be out, they need to claim a bonus-point victory at home to mid-table Burnage next Saturday and hope that Billingham fail to pick up anything at home to likely champions Huddersfield, and that Percy Park lose at Firwood Waterloo, who still aren’t safe themselves.
Given that scenario, the Bees would have 49 points, Billingham 48 and Percy Park 46, 47 or 48, depending on bonus points.
But even then the Wagon Laners would be relying on Percy Park, in their game in hand, being defeated at Huddersfield on Saturday, April 19, with the hosts almost certainly still needing points for the title.
Probably the worst way for the Bees to go down would be if they gain five points next weekend and Percy Park gain bonus points for being defeated by seven points or less and for scoring four tries in each of their last two matches, and therefore climb above the Bees by a point to 50!
One piece of good news, however, is that if Percy Park and the Bees finish the season level on 49 points, Bradford & Bingley would go above them by virtue of having eight wins to Park’s seven.
With winger James Morton and fly half Phil Greaves both failing late fitness tests, the Bees were forced to bring coach Stuart Dixon back at fly half for his first first-team game since April 2012.
Understandably, the 37-year-old had a mixed afternoon, but when he got things right, he looked capable of being the catalyst to spring what was a tough-looking defence from the third-placed visitors.
He said: “We didn’t play particularly well, but to lose Morts and Greavesey before kick-off didn’t help. However, Sale were a good, solid side who capitalised on our mistakes in the first half.”
The Bees also lost prop Jason Moss with a badly swollen knee after 21 minutes but Simon Hill did a manful job after switching from No 8, replacement Dave Barden slotting into the back row.
Dixon added: “Simon did well but you lose options off the bench when that happens.”
Sale’s first try came from a Bees line-out which was not gathered, fly half Liam McGovern stretching out to score in the 12th minute before converting himself.
Four minutes later, it was 14-0 after scrum half Sam Stelmaszek gathered his own chip to score a try, McGovern again converting.
In the 26th minute, Sam’s brother Ben showed Bees full back Richard Scull a clean pair of heels down the left wing for Sale’s third try, and their fourth in first-half injury-time was a classic counter-attacking effort after Dixon had tried a drop goal at the other end, Ben Stelmaszek getting his second try, McGovern again converting.
Bradford & Bingley managed to steady the ship in the second half when Sale rather lost their discipline, replacement hooker Ollie Longmore being sin-binned soon after the interval before home man of the match Barden got a pushover try.
Sale were tidy opponents but, although the scrum worked well, the Bees will be hoping their line-out functions more efficiently and their line breaks are more numerous against Burnage.