A HAT-TRICK by Chris McTurk helped Darlington Mowden Park to consolidate second place in National Two North with a 29-15 win at Bromsgrove.
After missing the first two months of the season through injury, the winger proved he is back to his best as the four-try bonus saw Mowden edge four points clear of third-placed Stourbridge.
Sedgley Park's bid to enter the promotion frame stalled when their long unbeaten run ended with a 15-12 defeat away to resurgent Sheffield Tigers.
Loading article content
Despite the heavy conditions, the commitment from both sides produced an entertaining game, in which Mowden dominated the scrums but struggled in the line-out.
After falling behind to a first-minute penalty they quickly forged ahead through two converted tries. McTurk's trademark chip and chase saw him score in the corner then, after a series of pick and drives,
No.8 Guy van den Dries forced his way over.
Gavin Painter landed both conversions from wide out and after a number of powerful runs from centre Callum Mackenize the third try arrived when McTurk supported a break on his opposite wing to score.
Bromsgrove scored a converted try from a line-out just before half-time to cut the gap to 19-10, but after ten minutes of stalemate on the resumption Mowden full back Max Connon shot through a gap to score.
Bromsgrove came back with a try through their forwards, but their hopes of a bonus point were dashed when McTurk dodged into the corner.
Zach Kibirige continued his habit of scoring two tries every time he plays for Blaydon, but they lost a cracking game 24-20 away to National One high-fliers Esher.
Both teams scored three tries and a penalty, the conversions making the difference as Andrew Baggett was twice narrowly off target from wide out.
After trailing 17-3 at the break Blaydon dominated the second half and were threatening to snatch victory during five minutes of added time, but were denied by strong defence.
For his first try Kibirige fielded a high ball just outside his 22 and broke away before sending right winger Tom Jeffery on a 30-metre run and taking the return pass to score.
For his second he showed his instinct for the line when he put in a big effort to stretch over in the corner after good handling by the backs.
That made it 17-13 after 53 minutes but on a rare escape from their own half Esher won a line-out and a centre went under the posts for the decisive score.
Lock Chris Wearmouth crashed over for Blaydon's third try but they had to be content with a losing bonus point.
The return of several players from injury helped Tynedale to win 34-13 at home to Old Albanians, but they are still eight points adrift of safety and face a tough match at Wharfedale this week.
Among the scorers were winger Hamish Smales, back after a broken jaw, and flanker Matt Fieldhouse, making his first appearance for a year.
The return of former skipper Jack Harrison in the centre also made a difference, although the star man was prop Matty Shields, who is back at the club on loan from Plymouth Albion.
The tight head galloped 40 metres for his first try and 50 for the second. Smales also raced in before half-time and with Gavin Beasley adding all three conversions plus a penalty it was 24-6 at the break.
Fieldhouse earned the four-try bonus point, Beasley again converting and landing another penalty.
Percy Park halted their slide in National Three North by completing a double over Billingham with a 40-24 home win, despite a hat-trick for the visitors by Matt Kirby.
Toby Davidson converted five of Percy Park's six tries, with former Mowden Park scrum half Todd Harrison again among the scorers.
Horden are five points clear at the top of Durham and Northumberland One after a 34-24 win at home to Hartlepool Rovers. Only two points cover the next four clubs and Darlington hope to keep things tight when they entertain Horden this week.
Guisborough went back above Darlington when they beat them 20-17 after dominating possession on a heavy pitch. A Mark Baldwin penalty gave Darlington the lead, but the hosts hit straight back with a converted try and penalty.
On the stroke of half-time Baldwin levelled the scores by scoring from a five-metee scrum and converting, but two tries midway through the second half proved decisive for Guisborough.
Darlington dominated the last ten minutes and drove lock Joe Oselton over for a converted try to earn a bonus point.
After last season's promotion, depleted Bishop Auckland have slipped into the bottom two following a 13-0 defeat at Stockton, who produced their best performance for some time.
Playing uphill in the first half, Bishops defended well and trailed only 5-0, but the only time they really threatened to score was when the ball ran loose from a ruck and they made 70 metres.
Winger Danny Phinn scored both Stockton's tries, finishing a good handling move in the first half to squeeze over in the corner. Good work by the pack followed by a clever chip from fly half Jeremy Good set up the second and Good added a penalty.
Since winning three of their first four games, Bishops have added only on more victory and this was their sixth successive defeat. Skipper Paul Fletcher is unlikely to play again this season because of his torn bicep.