Melbourne RFC 20 - 20 Stoke RFC
Cards and Hard Yards
Melbourne RFC welcomed Stoke Rugby Club to Cockshut Lane on a dry and sunny Saturday afternoon.
Melbourne welcomed back the returning Morris Hall to the engine room - bringing much needed grunt and guile to the squad. There was a shuffle round in the front row, seeing Walker Smith and Day team up, along with a back row combination of Stephenson, Purce & Nightingale. Josh Toplis was promoted to the bench along with a first team debut for 2017/2018 season for Joe Nicholson having returned from his holiday retreat in Bognor.
Stoke brought a youthful and athletic side, yet with experience throughout in the form of Rowley, Marsh (Captain) and Talbot in the backline and Plant, Hubbard and Williams in the pack. The sides looked well balanced on paper.
The first forty minutes were played in good spirit with both teams being ferocious in the tackle and contact areas yet spreading the ball nicely. It was Melbourne who took the first score via some excellent link play and evasive running. Livesey was a constant threat with strong and clever lines and he was involved in setting up Tommy Howard who finished off an excellent phase of play, Holden converting for a 7 - 0 lead.
The visitors used their main ball carriers well, in the form of Plant, Williams and Hubbard but Melbourne's defence was up to the task and met the threat runners head on for a number of tasty challenges and confrontations.
A penalty reduced the lead with Marsh striking from 30m out reducing the green&gold's advantage to 7 -3. However, a yellow card for stoke loose head Tom Conlon saw stoke reduced to 14 for ten minutes and Melbourne sought to maintain their early pressure, playing at tempo and with good structure. The green&gold scored once again through Mat Smith whose superb support saw him hit space at pace and drive through for the try. Again converted by Holden 14 - 3.
With around 5 minutes remaining on the clock Melbourne let their focus slip allowing Josh Partridge, who had an excellent game, to score under the posts. 14 - 10.
Post water break the game began to feature more whistle blasts than a train station platform. Both teams had numerous "conversations" with the referee who became close friends with both captains having had a number of one to ones throughout the second half. The flow of the game was broken down as a result of the penalty count.
Melbourne took the offer of points with a penalty wide right, struck well by Holden.
At around the 47 minute mark Stoke Head Coach - Rowley was given a straight red for making contact to head with boot.
Instead of spurring the green&gold on this had the opposite effect of motivating the visitors who upped their aggressive running and tucked the ball in tight and tried to go through phases. The referees whistle again sounded numerous times and delivered two quick successive yellow cards that saw Stark & Morris take ten minute breaks for repeat offences taking it too 13 v 14.
Following a period of persistent pressure by Stoke, the visitors were soon in the lead through Yates. This was followed up with a long range penalty by Maskrey to take the scores to 17 - 20.
Melbourne began to compose themselves and their play taking back the momentum. Following a period of solid possession and the reintroduction of the sin binned players an opportunity of a second penalty was offered up which Holden duly converted taking the scores to 20 - 20.
With the clock ticking towards 80 both sides attempted to find a way to sneak the win but all efforts proved fruitless despite the best efforts.
Next week the green&gold travel to Stourbridge Lions.