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Bishop’s Stortford’s four-game winning run came to an end as they suffered a 29-22 home defeat to Sale in National League 1 on Saturday.
The hosts, who have dropped one place to sixth, spent the last 10 minutes pretty much camped on the visitors’ line and forced two yellow cards but were unable to make the breakthrough that would have earned them more than just a losing bonus point.
The first half was largely controlled by a strong Sale side dominating both scrum and lineout, allowing livewire fly-half Kieran Wilkinson to pull the strings behind.
Stortford battled manfully, going through phase after phase whenever they laid hands on the ball, but it was a home handling error in midfield that brought Sale’s first try as the ball was moved quickly to winger Nev Edwards and he eluded a number of cover tacklers to touch down out wide.
A concerted spell of forward pressure from Stortford saw ruck after ruck on the visitors’ line and Connor Lloyd was able to dive over from the base for a try, which he also converted.
Sale soon regained the lead with a tremendous solo try from Wilkinson, exploiting space in midfield to round an opposing forward and beat the cover defence with his pace.
The fly-half also converted and, with half time looming, he again made his mark by slicing through the defensive line, but his supporting player was tackled just short.
Stortford were penalised at the breakdown, however, and three successive penalties against them at the resultant scrums, before the ball had even been put in, produced a yellow card for Tom McCrone, quickly followed by an unconverted try to Huw Davies at the base of a driving maul.
Stortford narrowed the deficit to three points a minute into the second half when Alex Rayment broke from an initial ruck near his own 22 to find Lloyd and Will Rogers in support to set up a try for Josh Stannard, well converted by Lloyd.
Edwards’ second try from a pinpoint Wilkinson chip kick stretched Sale’s lead to eight points, but this came back to three when Dan Powell sold an outrageous dummy and stepped through the resultant wide gap to sprint in as expansive Stortford rugby had the strong Sale defence scrambling for once.
And it was all square with 20 minutes left when Lloyd kicked a long penalty which had been won by a strong Stortford counter-ruck at a breakdown.
Sale’s physical strength was brought to bear with another try from a driving maul from an attacking lineout after Stortford had been penalised for holding on at a tackle under pressure from a good Sale kick chase.
With their scrum now more competitive, Stortford hurled themselves repeatedly against the uncompromising Sale defence and piled on the pressure in the last 10 minutes without being able to score despite the visitors having two players sin binned.
Stortford: Powell, Morris, Ayrton, Pope, Stannard, Riddington, Lloyd; Matthews, Rayment, McCrone, Ball, Nkwocha, Wrafter, Jones, Rogers. Replacements: Jackson, Roberts, Tierney, Smith, Bolton.
Sale: Brady, Edwards, Robins, Tincknell, Walsh, Wilkinson, Bradley; Carlile, Brown, Ford, Bamber, Groves, Gray, Hughes, Davies. Replacements: Longmore, Onasanya, Birchall, Hirskyj-Douglas, Dixon.
Scorers: Stortford – Tries: Lloyd 14, Stannard 41, Powell 52; Cons: Lloyd 15, 42; Pens: Lloyd 60. Sale – Tries: Edwards 9, 46, Wilkinson 16, Davies 39, Longmore 67; Cons: Wilkinson 17, 68.
Referee: Dr Jonathan Cook.
Star man: Kieran Wilkinson (Sale).
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