A gap to second narrows

In a division that is as close as it is unpredictable, to calculate is folly.

Northwich swap places with Stockport, rising to fifth position, as a reward for their sixth win of the campaign at Moss Farm.

A narrow defeat for second-placed Blackburn, conquerors of Martin Poste’s side seven days earlier, means a distance to the promotion play-off place is reduced to seven points.

However the director of rugby quipped afterwards that passing 50 points should at least secure the club is playing in North One West again next season.

He wasn’t being disingenuous either; the fact that Waterloo, a National League club as recently as 2017, sit third-bottom shows in part how unforgiving this level of rugby has become.

Not just a win

Any victory is a boost.

However Blacks, just like their opponents, had lost three of their previous four matches.

Not only that, they were on the wrong end of a 50-26 score-line in the return back in October.

Most at Moss Farm agree that was a nadir of the current campaign but they will have been wary of another setback with a trip to champions-elect Carlisle looming in a fortnight.

The manner of this success will have heartened Poste; his team had to scrap for every inch of territory gained and they were rewarded with two late tries.

In his words, they ‘dogged it out.’

Praise for the pack

A jarring first-half at Ramsgreave Drive last weekend, when Blackburn amassed 25 unanswered points, served as a sobering reminder of what the strongest teams at this level are capable of.

Poste shuffled his line-up, restoring Michael Gough at hooker and switching Chris James to the back-row along with Richard Dale.

They missed elusive running of Matt Ensor, ruled out by an injury, but they held their own at the scrum where props Joe Maddocks and Ben Ridgway both put in encouraging performances.

Stockport had dominated up front during the teams’ first meeting, and initially at least attempted to assume control the same way this time around.

They weren’t able to.

Barber is decisive again

Northwich’s full-back was, for the most part, prevented from inflicting damage on an opponent.

There was a high number of handling errors by both sides and he contributed to the tally with a knock-on after Blacks had driven back the visitors with an impressive maul following an attacking lineout.

They trailed 3-0 at that moment and the contest had entered its final quarter.

It’s rare to silence him completely and it his awareness, and perfectly-executed long pass, invited Will Du Randt to run in what proved to be a match-winning try.

Barber was not done there, and he began a sprint to reach skipper Matthew Poste’s forward kick as second-favourite in stoppage time.

He won the foot-race though before Chris James forced himself over Stockport’s line with the recycled ball.

Blacks dominate the lineout

Sam Naylor’s return to the side after recovering from a virus immediately makes them a more formidable proposition at lineouts – both attacking and defensive.

Together with Chris Heywood, they gave Stockport plenty to worry about.

Northwich repeatedly stole back possession from their opponents’ throw, an effective weapon on an afternoon when referee Damian Hamilton repeatedly and consistently took a dislike to their attempts to do the same at the breakdown.