Bishop's Stortford 1st XV 34 Old Elthamians 20
A superb first half defensive effort by the whole Stortford side sets up a memorable home win against a strong and in-form OEs side.
Recent encounters between these two sides have been extremely hard-fought and todays match, sponsored by Mantle Business Centres was no exception. Stortford started strongly and scored an excellent try after 8 minutes, after a couple of quick, flat passes had put him outside the previously strong OEs' defence, allowing the fullback to canter in behind the posts, giving George Cullen an easy conversion. The rest of the half was, though dominated in terms both of possession and territory by the visitors and it took a fantastically committed defensive display from Stortford to limit OEs' scoring to 2 penalties to flyhalf, Tom White after 12 and 15 minutes. The home side's back row, already severely depleted through injuries was further hit by the late unavailability of Dan Leo, but the trio of Rory Banks, Oli Jones and Steve Ball led from the front against their powerful opposite numbers in an immense defensive effort by the whole team.
Having won the atttritional battle of the first half by the narrowest of margins, Stortford came out for the second period in aggressive mode and were unlucky to concede a converted try after 4 minutes to a smartly taken interception try by OEs centre, Max Wilkins, as the home side tried to run out of their 22. This seemed, though only to inspire them and their one point lead was restored within 4 minutes, when quick hands in midfield gave winger, Chris Smith a glimpse of the line, which is all that he needed to touch down and Cullen did the rest from the touchline. The flyhalf managed to repeat the feat some 10 minutes later from the opposite touchline, after Matt Tomlinson rounded off a series of forward drives at the line, following a break up the middle by Smith. Stortford's dominance was temporarily interrupted only 4 minutes later, when they took full advantage of a charged down clearance kick from the home side's 22 to score a converted try to get within a point once again. The score came from a driven lineout maul, after Sean Edwards had been penalised and yellow-carded for collapsing an earlier maul, being driven at the line. This setback might have rocked a less committed side, but, despite their one man disadvantage, Stortford surged back onto the attack and were rewarded 6 minutes later, when a reckless late challenge on Cullen after he had chipped ahead in midfield brought a yellow card for OEs backrow, Hamish Barton. Cullen took his own immediate retribution by kicking the goal to stretch the lead beyond the reach of White's always threatening left boot. When a second yellow card was seen 7 minutes later by OEs' number 6, George Messum for a high tackle on Jimmy Rea, as the winger dashed into the opposition 22, any real threat from te visitors was extinguished. Repeating what OEs had done 13 minutes earlier, Stortford took instant advantage, kicking the penalty to touch and driving James Apperley over for a try from the resultant maul. Cullen couldn't quite kick the conversion, but this represented only a very short-term reprieve for the visitors, with Matt Riddington going in for a try in the opposite corner only 3 minutes later, after a great break up the middle by Matt Tomlinson. The conversion attempt again missed its mark, but, with only a couple of minutes left to play the game was effectively over and Stortford comfortably saw out time.
This was a tremendous squad performance, which embodied the team spirit that surely few sides can rival. The Russell Properties man of the match award could in fairness have gone to almost anyone out there, but the vote finally went to Steve Ball for his non-stop performance on both sides of the ball.
With the previous 3 encounters between Stortford and OEs having been won by the away side, this was a particularly welcome home win against opposition who have invariably pushed us to the limit. The fact that this was achieved in front of a big home crowd and that the victory takes us level on points with the historically mighty Blackheath in 5th place in the league just added to the occasion. Congratulations must also go to the much depleted Blues side who, although losing to OEs' very powerful second string, pushed them right to the wire, losing only to the final kick of the match.
Happy Christmas to all Stortford players, coaches and supporters - the festive fare will taste all the better for this rousing win! - but our good wishes also go to OEs, whose team and many traveling supporters did their club great credit today.