Blues stand firm to make it three in a row
Victory in a tight game build on defensive defiance
Bishop’s Stortford Blues (2nd XV) travelled to Allianz Park home of Saracens on Sunday (29th) afternoon to take on Fullerians RFC in the final of the Hertfordshire County Cup. This competition is now limited to teams playing at level 6 and below, hence Stortford being represented by the 2nd XV.
The Blues had previously won the competition in both 2016 and 2017 and on that basis alone were considered by many to have been favourites to retain the title. Fullerians have though had a relatively successful season in London One North (Level 6) whilst the Blues have struggled to find their normal consistency this season, mainly due to the demands placed on them to support an injury ravaged 1st XV.
It was apparent from the moment the teams took the field that Fullerians had an edge in terms of height, weight & experience. Despite having a strong wind at their backs Fullerians largely eschewed this obvious advantage in favour of running their bigger guys at the Stortford defence.
The Blues defence though held firm, restricting their opponents to a couple of early long range penalty attempts both of which were missed although the second only by a fraction as it hit an upright.
Stortford had to content themselves with the odd foray up field but for the most part it was ‘backs to the wall’ defence. On the odd occasion Fullerians did manage to break through any threat was soon neutered by poor handling.
It wasn’t until the 30th minute that the team from Watford, when awarded another penalty, elected to kick for territory but the Blues managed to snuff out this rare incursion into their danger area. When the whistle blew for half time with the game still scoreless the general consensus was that Fullerians had tried to play from too far out and that Stortford would surely choose to make much better use of the strengthening wind.
It was Fullerians however who started the 2nd period more brightly and caught their younger opponents napping with a cheeky line out that led to Stortford conceding a penalty right in front of their posts. Understandably in such a close encounter Fullerians elected to kick at goal but somehow their kicker managed to miss and Stortford breathed again.
Stortford spurned the next opportunity to score when awarded a penalty of their own near the half way line after 48 minutes. Mindful that conditions were in his favour captain Luke Webber elected to kick at goal despite being at least 35 metres out. Unfortunately whilst he had the distance his radar was awry, although only slightly, as his effort this time rebounded off the post and the game remained scoreless.
Fullerians tactic of using their big runners was much more effective against the wind. The suspicion may have been that that it would be they who would tire first but if anything it was the younger Stortford side that began to wane under the burden of having to make repeated tackles to stop wave after wave of Fullerians attack with Lock Mark Holgate & No.8 Stuart Young prominent.
One such attack in the 55th minute led to another simple penalty attempt beneath the Stortford posts and this time they didn’t miss. Deadlock broken, 0-3 to Fullerians
Immediately Stortford’s coaching team began to make some tactical changes, most notably switching scrum half Sam Coleman to Full back. The changes had an almost instant revitalising effect on the Blues as for the first time they began to maintain pressure on their opponents. With 12 minutes to go Stortford were awarded a penalty in midfield & this time spurned a kick at goal in favour of using the wind to kick deep into Fullers territory.
From the resultant line out Stortford drove repeatedly at the Fullerians goal line, until eventually No.8 Brad Etherington somehow forced his way over and ground the ball. Webber missed the difficult conversion but Stortford now held the lead at 5-3 with just ten minutes remaining.
The game was delayed soon after for what looked like a nasty ankle injury to Stortford lock Ben Kelland but when the game restarted it was the energised Blues side that now had control. With 6 minutes remaining Stortford were awarded another penalty in a similar position to that from which Webber had hit the post earlier but that didn’t put him off having another go and this time he got it right to extend his teams lead to 8-3
Fullerians were unable to muster a response- their big runners now having run out of steam and it was aptly Stortford’s fitter younger forwards who isolated an opponent forcing a penalty. That just left Webber with the final act of kicking into touch to seal the victory.
This was a far more competitive game than some of the recent county cup finals and Fullerians should be given full credit for the part they played in it. They could have and perhaps on the balance of play, should have won but the Blues found a way to win and in doing so collected their 3rd successive County cup triumph.
Captain Webber on what was his last appearance for the club mounted the steps to collect the trophy from County President Martyn Kirk and signal the start of the celebrations.
Stortford Blues team
1. Ben Harrison
2. Tom Cattell
3. Alfie Walsh
4. Ben Kelland
5. Joe Tracy
6. Jamie Campbell
7. Alex Leo
8. Brad Etherington
9. Sam Coleman
10. Luke Webber ©
11. Simon Wasley
12. Jack Scantlebury
13. Arran Mahoney
14. Michael Gallagher
15. Connor Austin
16. Ben Law
17. George Keen
18. Hector Brevitt- Smith
19. Adam Eagle