Hope Valley RUFC are celebrating promotion after a 42-17 victory over Ashton-under-Lyne.
The final whistle prompted celebrations from players and spectators alike as Valley’s success was confirmed, with the team now requiring just a single league point from this weekend’s visit to basement club Village Spartans to be confirmed as champions.
Fielding a strong squad, Valley were looking to complete an unbeaten home campaign and record a third victory over an Ashton team, who boasted an impressive recent run of victories.
Playing up the slope and against a strong breeze, Valley contained early pressure from the visitors’ big runners and soon took the lead as centre Matt Johnson powered through several would-be tackles before sprinting clear for a converted try and a 7-0 lead that was short-lived as Ashton’s talented 12 took advantage of a quick tap penalty for an unconverted try.
Worse was to follow as Ashton’s centre intercepted a wayward pass, racing clear for another unconverted try and a 10-7 lead.
Controlling the scrums and with Kristian Williams dominant in the lineouts, Valley still struggled to play their usual cohesive style of rugby, but soon retook the lead when, after a period of forward pressure, fly half Gethin Evans crashed over from close range, Ben Somerton again adding the extra two points.
Once again Ashton fought back and, despite Williams’ best defensive efforts, they produced a fluent handling movement for a converted try and a three point interval lead.
A stern half-time team talk galvanised Valley and the front row of Bateman, Somerton and Woodall began to man-handle the opponent’s scrum and scrum half Steve Rawson was the beneficiary, scoring two converted tries in quick succession.
The first was a stunning long-range solo effort, the second from close range and a three point deficit was suddenly an 11-point lead.
The game-long problem of high tackles then saw the referee hand out more cards than a Vegas croupier.
But Valley, despite the temporary loss of Josh Mosley, were in full flow.
Gethin Evans was controlling the game from fly half and his superb break found full back Ed Oldridge in support for another converted try and a decisive 18-point lead that was extended when winger Hein La Grange crashed through several tackles for another long-range try, again improved by the faultless boot of Somerton.
Tries: Rawson (2), Evans, Johnson, E. Oldridge, La Grange
Cons: Somerton (6)
Yellow cards: Mosley, Williams
MAN OF THE MATCH: Overcoming a first half error, Gethin Evans produced a superb display of the fly half skills, keeping Valley on the front foot in a dominant second half performance.