With the new season at National level only 3 weeks away, Sandbach travelled to Chester to play a pre-season friendly. Chester are a constant presence at the top end of National 3 North and this season have recruited extra players and coaches with the prime objective of reaching National 2.
Sandbach on the other hand have just been promoted to this level and have no experience of this level of rugby. This friendly game was therefore an important step for both teams as they build up for the big league kick-off on 1st September.
The game was to be played as four 20 minute sessions to allow coaches plenty of opportunity to swap players and try new combinations. Billed as a friendly, spectators were perhaps not prepared for the intensity of this game as both teams went full tilt from the whistle. The first 10 minutes was a very tight affair with Sandbach perhaps edging honours in the loose and scrum with Chester seeming on top in the line-out. The young Sandbach pack looked very assured and began to push their opponents around the park.
Sandbach eventually broke the opening deadlock with stand-out centre Matt Pollen taking a lovely line and carving a path to score under the Chester posts; Will Cargill converted.
In the second period, both teams made changes. Sandbach bought on a new half back pairing of Phil Anjelkovic and Jonny Lea to replace last season’s regular 1st Team pair of Mark Bird and Cargill. It was pleasing that the team hardly missed a beat in attack as this pair combined with back row replacements Ross Sutherland and Josh Longson and young prop Tom Concu tightened up the defensive line. Despite these positive interventions Chester were blowing out the cobwebs and managed to pick up a penalty kick much to the derision of the spectators, but signalling how seriously they were taking this game. They ended the 1st half with a well taken try and conversion by their speedy winger.
More changes in the 2nd half for Sandbach as Sandbach introduced former Blaydon centre Marcus Broad, John Nash and ex Broadstreet wing Andy Funnel. This seemed the best quarter for Sandbach as they scored two tries, from Tom Herd and Pollen again, the first of which was converted by Benny Elliott, who has clearly improved his kicking over the close season. Chester, players after the match, were gracious enough to comment that when we played rugby like that 3rd period we were a class apart. In the 4th period, Chester came back strongly scoring three unanswered tries and showing Sandbach how small lapses in concentration will get punished at this level.
It was a disappointment to lose the game, but in truth we were very pleased with the performance, we learned a lot about ourselves, a lot about the game at this level and gained a good insight into the effectiveness of the various combinations within the squad.
Having beaten Wilmslow 7-67 the previous weekend and playing Warrington (tomorrow) on Tuesday the 14th that completes Sandbach’s pre-season fixtures apart from an important game away at Caldy on Sunday 26th August in the 1st Round of the Cheshire Cup.