WILMSLOW bowed out of the Cheshire Vase at the semi-final stage on Friday.

They were defeated in sub-zero temperatures under floodlights 12-7 by Sandbach at the Memorial Ground.

Sandbach have been plying their trade in the Midlands Premier League for several seasons, a level above Wilmslow who are so far this season’s pacesetters in North One West – a level lower.

In many respects, it turned out to be ‘déjà vu’.

Last season Wolves found level five rugby more than they could cope with. The pace of the game was just quicker, the skill levels and athleticism of the players higher.

On the evidence of this game, one would conclude that not much has changed.

Last season though, Wolves would have shipped a barrel load of points in this kind of game and it would have been out of sight by half time.

This time, although well beaten at the end, they were not overrun, the two Sandbach tries arose more from their good play than any careless defensive lapses by Wilmslow, and mathematically it was a contest right to the final whistle.

Nevertheless, should Wolves retain their current league position for the season, they will be in no doubt, if any ever existed, that they will need to raise their game significantly to do better a second time round at the higher level.

Wolves were missing several automatic first choice players that they could have done with but everyone turning out had first-team experience and those brought in had being doing well in Wilmslow’s table-topping second team.

For these players though, there would have been a big difference between playing against sides in the North West Intermediate League Division Two South and one from the Midlands Premier League.

There wasn’t much to choose between the sides in the first quarter.

Sandbach looked dangerous and fluent when they passed the ball wide while Wilmslow made several promising line breaks, which unfortunately just fizzled out when the ball carrier got isolated.

A marked difference between the two sides was that Sandbach always seemed to have players running off the ball in support of their ball carrier and their handling was more secure, which, of course, enabled them to retain possession for longer and to build periods of pressure on the Wolves defence.

On the quarter hour, Wilmslow took the lead when they won clean lineout ball in midfield and the ubiquitous Ben Day, playing at No14 this week, came in off the wing to break the Sandbach line and a couple of passes later, full-back James Coulthurst held off the Sandbach tacklers to go in between the posts.

It was a smart sequence which would have shown the visitors that Wolves could play a bit with ball on the front foot.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have much more of that for the remaining 60 minutes.

That was long enough for Sandbach to get into gear and the longer the game went on the more they forced Wolves back into their den.

To add to their difficulties, Wolves increasingly fell foul of the referee’s whistle at the breakdown and the pressure just built.

But their defence got stuck in and it wasn’t until half time approached that Sandbach were able to create the space on their left wing to reduce the deficit.

Mark Jennings, something of a talisman for Wolves, had to be replaced at half time and Sandbach then dominated the second half, which was conducted almost exclusively in or around the Wolves 22.

When Wolves did get their hands on the ball it was deep in their half, they were rarely able to get beyond halfway and when they did, it wasn’t for long as the siege on their line was soon resumed.

Almost inevitably the pressure finally told when well into the final quarter Sandbach sucked the Wolves defence in close and created the space out wide again on their left wing for the match-winning score.

They then only had to control events for the 10 minutes or so remaining to run out winners, which they did without allowing Wolves any real sniff of a chance.

Sandbach were clearly the better side, a good shade faster all around the pitch with the skills and organisation to match but Wolves had faced up to them for the duration and gave nothing away easily.

They can take solace from having restricted Sandbach to just two tries.

This Saturday it’s back to league business at Birkenhead Park for a top of the league encounter.

They will need to be at full strength, especially in the pack, and in the right frame of mind to get anything from this one.