Bishop's Stortford 1st XV 32 Dorking 24
Stortford achieve well-earned victory over third-placed Dorking in hotly-contested match.
Dorking enjoyed the better of the early exchanges, benefiting from taking two Stortford scrums against the head, but stern home defending prevented any score. Indeed, the pressure exerted by aggressive tackling induced a number of early penalties in Stortford's favour. This was despite skipper, Tom Coleman having taken three points with an excellent kick after 10 minutes from the first such offence - for offside, following a strong home counter-attack. Three minutes later and the home side laid down an even clearer marker of their aggressive intent with an unconverted try to flanker, Maehe Austin after good interplay between forwards and backs saw prop, Jmaes Zhao almost over in the corner. Good ruck ball from the ensuing breakdown saw Austin crashing over the line for the touchdown. After 25 minutes Coleman again took advantage of a breakdown offence by the visitors, following a crunching run by centre, John Stocker, cutting inside on a switch pass from the flyhalf. This score was cancelled out some 5 minutes later by Coleman's opposite number, Matt Noble, when an extended period of strong Dorking pressure forced a penalty for a Stortford defender going in at the side of a ruck. Another 5 minutes, though saw the home lead restored to 11 points, when an impressive surge by second row, Matt Tomlinson was halted with a high tackle and Coleman kicked the penalty from under the posts to take the score at halftime to 14-3.
Stortford started the second half on the front foot and were rewarded after 7 minutes with a try to Nick Harris, stepping skilfully in off his wing, following a series of strong drives by his forwards, in which Austin and Tomlinson were again prominent. Coleman made a good conversion. Dorking were undaunted and a quick penalty after Stortford had botched a lineout in the visitors' half found a gaping hole in Stortford's inside defence, which was ruthlessly exploited by the visitors' 10 and 12 with Noble touching down under the posts after 10 minutes, giving himself an easy conversion. Stortford bounced back straight from the kick off and Colemen slotted another penalty, as Dorking were again penalised at the breakdown. The game swung from end to end, with both sides looking threatening in possession, but it was a tremendous defensive tackle made in his own 22 by Stortford winger, Jimmy Rea, forcing a turnover that proved to be the next decisive incident. Stortford immediately swept onto the attack and 20 minutes into the half Nick Harris, registered his second try, beating two men before driving a third over the line for a tremendous score, as he capitalised on a pass from Hamish Irving, following a searing break by the second row. At 29-10 it looked as if Stortford were in the driving seat, but Dorking were clearly not ready to accept this and surged back onto the attack, stretching the home defence as play swung from side to side. This pressure was eventually rewarded, as Stortford were penalised for a tackle off the ball, which also produced a yellow card for Austin before the half hour was up. It took barely a minute for the visitors to capitalise on their numerical advantage, as they kicked the penalty for touch and drove over for a try directly from the resultant 5 metre lineout. Noble kicked a very good conversion to take the score to 29-17. Dorking were now on top and launched wave after wave of attack on the Storford line. This was met once again with some sterling defence, epitomised by a crashing, try-saving tackle by Sam Winter - one of a number of crucial interventions throughout the match by the fullback. The visitors were not to be denied, however and, shortly before Austin's return to the field they scored another try off the back of a five metre scrum, when their backrow committed both Stortford's outstnding scrumhalf, Tom Banks and the remnants of the back row to give his flyhalf a clear run at the line close to the posts. Noble duly converted his own score to narrow the gap to a mere 4 points. With little time left, Stortford put good pressure on, as Dorking tried to run the ball out of defence from the dropout and the home victory was sealed, as a penalty was awarded close to the 22 for not releasing the ball at the tackle. Coleman cooly kicked the goal for a final scoreline of 32-24 - thus depriving the visitors of a losing bonus point, which they probably feel they had earned.
This was a tremendous game contested by two free-running sides and was thoroughly enjoyed by a large home crowd. There is no League match next week but players will doubtless be kept on their toes as competition for first team places should remain high, with injuries remaining at an unusually low level. Past exeperience tells us that nothing can be taken for granted on our visits to Hampshire and, despite Havant's current lowly league position, hard work will be needed, if our run of wins is to be maintained.