Wilmslow 29-36 Northwich

IF beating Birkenhead Park announced Northwich’s arrival at this level, then this was its echo.

Poetic then that the final whistle was greeted with silence by a home support not used to seeing their charges lose in front of them.

Not Blacks will care much.

They are now favourites to finish third in North One West, and their latest victory brings with it the bonus of a place in next month’s Cheshire RFU Vase final.

Coincidentally, they’ll face Park there.

Beforehand, director of rugby Martin Poste said proof of Blacks’ progress on the pitch this season was their pragmatism.

They needed plenty of it against Wolves, with the absence of John Dudley from the second row prompting a reshuffle to accommodate debutant Jack Atherton.

The visitors missed the veteran’s bulk, particularly at the scrum.

And they had to adapt again for the final 20 minutes, during a spell when Wilmslow were applying maximum pressure, after losing prop Mike Bradshaw to a knee injury.

Brad Bates, his replacement, did not let them down.

“We’ve not come this far to leave with nothing,” said Rick Smith during a pause in play late on.

His teammates paid attention, summoning their final reserves of energy to send captain Chris Dale to the line in the third minute of added time.

Nick Baldwin’s conversion, his fourth on a sunny afternoon, put Northwich out of reach.

They had felt like a remote prospect during the game’s opening quarter, dominated in every way by the home team.

It yielded two tries, one of them converted, and the men from Moss Farm did not make up meaningful yards until a raid on their left in the 26th minute.

They did not panic though, and troubled the scorers for the first time when Dale charged to the line after Kyle Lindsay timed perfectly a pass inside.

Baldwin added the extras, and he did so a second time after Bradshaw dotted down a pushover try.

Wilmslow rallied though, edging into an interval lead with an unconverted score before the break.

Blacks had seen enough to be encouraged, and Baldwin restored parity from a penalty early in the second period.

Full-back Will Du Randt raced to the whitewash shortly afterwards, a timely reminder that Northwich’s backs division can still be potent even if possession is scarce.

And it was exactly that for the next 20 minutes, during which Blacks repelled everything thrown at them.

Wilmslow finally broke through after their scrum-half darted forward following an attacking lineout, a successful conversion levelling the scores again at 22-22.

As legs tired, Joel Barber picked a perfect moment to dissect the hosts’ defence with a piercing burst that yielded a fourth try.

Baldwin improved the centre’s score, but the ebb and flow of an absorbing contest was demonstrated by Wilmslow replying almost immediately a converted try of their own.

Nerves jangled when Baldwin drifted a penalty kick wide, but he did not err again after Dale’s last lung-bursting dash.

Northwich | Phillips, Lindsay, Mike Bradshaw, Atherton, Smith, Naylor, Heywood, Chris Dale, Poste, Baldwin, Brown, Richard Dale, Barber, Skinkis, Du Randt Replacements Bates, Purbrick, Thompson Tries Chris Dale (2), Mike Bradshaw, Du Randt, Barber Cons Baldwin (4) Pen Baldwin