Bishop's Stortford First XV 43 Loughborough Students 12
Lessons learned from Fylde experience implemented to great effect.
Last week's disappointing display was put firmly behind the team this week, as the work obviously put in on the training pitch on Tuesday and Thursday paid huge dividends in this match, sponsored by Bovis Homes.
Right from the start the whole side was clearly highly motivated and this paid off almost immediately, when Rob Duff touched down for an unconverted try after only 2 minutes. The opening was created by some excellent interpassing between backs and forwards, with Matt Riddington capitalising to make a telling break and feed his fullback with a well-weighted pass. With a bit more precision and patience, Stortford could easily have scored a couple more tries in the course of the next 10 minutes, but a couple of loose passes and a penalty for going off the feet by a first support player at a tackle led to turnovers. Obviously in a festively generous mood, the home side then proceeded to concede a series of penalties at breakdowns to gift Loughborough possession in the Stortford 22. The visitors needed no second invitation and quick handling by their backs along the line to the left and then back to the right, created an easy run-in for winger, Jack Stapley for a try after 16 minutes. Salt was then poured in the wound by an excellent conversion from out wide to put Stortford 2 points behind. The rest of the first half was, though dominated by the home team, with George Cullen at 10 clearly enjoying himself pulling the tactical strings based on the plans laid on the training pitch. It took only 2 minutes for Stortford to regain the lead, with Dan Elsom pouncing on a loose ball, after a Cullen grubber kick to plunge over for an unconverted try. Unfortunately, in doing so, the all-action flanker managed to dislocate again his right shoulder, so is facing another extended period on the sidelines. Momentum was, nevertheless, maintained and further pressure on the Loughborough line was exploited after 28 minutes, when Tom Banks forced his way through a tight, close defence at the base of a ruck to bullock his way over for a try under the posts. Cullen converted, as he did 5 minutes later, when Steve Ball crashed over from quick ball from a 5 metre lineout. Stortford stayed on the front foot and the half ended with Will Roberts - clearly enjoying clattering into opponents from his former University - touching down at the back of a well-driven maul from a 5 metre lineout.
Further injuries to Stortford players and two yellow cards made it difficult for the home team to maintain the same dominance through the second half, but the next two scores, still went their way after 51 and 59 minutes. Both came in very similar style as first, Duff and then Nick Hankin cut telling lines in from the left wing to slice open the Students' defence, as the inside backs had threatened to go wide. Cullen converted both to stretch the lead to 36 points, but Loughborough were not prepared to lie down and took advantage of the first yellow card - against Sean Edwards for what was deemed to have been the last of too many offences at breakdowns - to register their second try, scored by Timothy Bitirim. This came from a decisive break from the back of a scrum well inside Loughborough's own half and, although Stortford showed great determination in getting back and preventing an immediate score with a couple of tremendous cover tackles, the Students quickly went through a couple more phases to put their winger in with 10 minutes left to play. The visitors now poured on the pressure against the home side's 14 men, clearly looking for their own 4 try bonus point, but Andy Long's men showed typical grit in preventing any further score.
Man of the Match, sponsored this week by Forward Corporate Finance could have gone to any number of players, but his calm control and decisive running from flyhalf saw George Cullen receive the award.
Now for the big local derby at Cambridge next week!