SANDBACH kept up the pressure on league leaders Hoylake with a hard-fought derby success on Saturday.
Both teams were in buoyant mood after spending the morning watching England's World Cup heroes triumph over Australia in Sydney. But Sandbach were soon left wishing they had a Jonny Wilkinson of their own as seven kicks went begging throughout the course of the afternoon.
Both teams defended resolutely but Crewe and Nantwich made a succession of technical infringements from rucks and mauls which went unpunished.
Although Crewe held their own in the set scrums, their lineout was poor and possession limited.
They did have a golden opportunity to open their account with several five-metre scrums near the Sandbach line, but fell foul of the referee and some strong defensive work from their visitors.
For all their time in the Crewe half, Sandbach had only one Andy Rollings penalty to show for all their efforts at the turnaround.
The same pattern emerged in the second period with Sandbach on top and they were rewarded when a finely-judged cross kick from Lee Pickles was collected by winger Dan Massey to score in the corner.
The last 10 minutes of the game saw Crewe pounding away at the Sandbach line, but they did not have the flair to break through a strong defence.
Sandbach vice-captain Chris Busby said: 'It was our best defensive performance of the season and hooker Tim Oakes and open-side Ross Stitt were outstanding.
'We should also thank our many supporters who were ferried across to Willaston to cheer us on. It felt more like a home game.
'After England's win in the morning, the lads had a double celebration in the evening when they hit the town hard!' Busby believes that Sandbach can still challenge Hoylake for the title.
'If we can put together a good run between now and Christmas then we will be set for when we meet Hoylake early in the new year. I don't think there is one team which is far and away the outstanding side in this division, but while most teams are strong at home, Hoylake have been winning home and away.
'That's why it was such a good result for us on Saturday as we need to win away and Crewe and Nantwich, as one of the teams who will be pushing towards the top of the league, is a notable scalp.' Sandbach return home on Saturday when they entertain Dukinfield at Brad-wall Road, while Crewe have a busy weekend in store.
They visit Ellesmere Port on Saturday (2.30pm) before entertaining Sale in the quarter-final of the Thwaites Cheshire Plate competition the following day (2pm).
Crewe seconds lost 17-7 at Bolton with a try from Daniel Parker and conversion by Mike Parker. The thirds won at home to Wilmslow thirds 33-7.
Crewe's seconds are at home to Dids-bury this Saturday (2.30pm).