Stortford complete double over play-off contenders, Ampthill to secure fourth place in National 3 South East and London.
Despite having ended their own play-off aspirations with the defeat in the last away game at Dorking, Stortford were clearly determined to give a good account of themselves against an Ampthill team that had not lost since the reverse fixture at Stortford back in December. The visitors went on the offensive right from the word go and were soon 3 points up, when Tom Coleman punished a high tackle on the Ampthill 10 metre line by converting the resultant penalty. Three further minutes, however saw the scores levelled, when a poorly executed kick chase by Stortford was run back and a penalty was awarded for killing the ball at a breakdown. It took only another 5 minutes, though, for Stortford to regain the lead through a try to fullback, Sam Winter. The position had been created by Winter himself, with an excellent chip kick and recovery and good hands moving the ball left and right, with forwards, Hamish Irving and Maehe Austin both making dents in the home defence created an extra man to the right, which Coleman and centre, Jono Child exploited clinically to set their fullback free to score. Coleman added the 2 points, as he did 7 minutes later, following a try to Child himself, created by a searing break by his fellow centre, John Stocker. The strong Ampthill pack now finally managed to assert itself, however, through a series of set scrums close to the Stortford line, some of them taken as options, as the Stortford 8 were penalised a number of times for front-row offences. The level of the visitors' collective commitment was, perhaps best demonstrated during this period, as the backs actively showed their appreciation of the occasional mini victories achieved by their besieged forwards. Finally their stubbornnes was rewarded, as the home side was forced to break off the back of a held scrum and strong tackling forced a penalty at the breakdown. Stortford's backs continued to threaten and only a loose pass to winger, Jimmy Rea prevented a further try to the visitors after a brilliant 40 yard break by Winter, running back an Ampthill kick through the heart of their defence. The score, therefore remained 3-17 at halftime.
The 14 point lead looked barely sufficient, as Stortford turned to play uphill and against the breeze in the second half, but prospects were considerably improved after 5 minutes, via an excellent try to Stocker. His own initial break created the opportunity and, when this was carried forward by winger, Wayne Child, the centre was first in support to complete the score from 10 yards or so out. Coleman's conversion attempt went narrowly wide. Stortford's running rugby continued to hold sway for the next 15 minutes and this was rewarded with a further 3 points to Coleman for a penalty for a high tackle after another strong run-back of an Ampthill kick by Sam Winter. Only 2 minutes later, though and the home side countered strongly with a morale-boosting try out wide on the left, as the winger took advantage of some crafty work off the ball, which resulted in 2 Stortford defenders being blocked. A decisive swing in fortunes now took place, as a testing high kick from Ampthill's flyhalf bounced 180 degrees backwards off the fingertips of a Stortford player and a penalty was conceded, as a retreating colleague caught the ball from an offside position. The home side used the opportunity to establish position on Stortford's line and this time, their forwards took more than full advantage, as they forced a number of penalties from a succession of scrums. Eventually, Stortford's loosehead prop, Will Freeston was yellow-carded for repeated front-row offences and it took only one more scrum for a penalty try to be awarded, 28 minutes into the half. With tails up, the home side ran the restart kick back with determination and, for once, the Stortford defence was found wanting and weak tackling saw the Ampthill left wing over for an unconverted try, reducing the gap to 5 points with 10 minutes still left to play. A bit of pressure was relieved when, almost directly from the restart, the home side was penalised for a high tackle, which Coleman never looked like missing. Within a further 2 minutes, though, the margin was reduced to one point with another penalty try being awarded to the home side after Stortford failed to deal with the dropout, leading to a couple more scrums on their own line, with which the 7 forwards could not cope.
Fortunately, the visitors were able to win the ball from the restart, via Stocker and after a few phases of trademark quick handling, they were able to force yet another penalty for preventing release at a ruck. In today's form, Coleman was not going to miss from only a few yards wide of the posts and he duly took the lead out to 4 points. There remained a very tense 4 minutes to see out, as the home side launched themselves into hit after hit and it took great discipline from Stortford's players to dig in, as Ampthill's increasingly desperate efforts pushed the boundaries of legality. Eventually though the visitors' determination saw them through, as one of a series of strong tackles forced a knock-on, which brought the hugely welcome final whistle.
Well done, Stortford, but one final - and not insubstantial(!) - challenge remains in the shape of next week's home game against champions, Canterbury - the only side yet to be beaten in what has been a tremendous last threequarters of the season.
Finally, congratulations to Stortford's Blues for today clinching their section of the Canterbury League - well-earned reward for the Club's second string and the great support they've given to the Firsts throughout the season.