Melbourne come up short
Stoke RFC 24 - 14 Melbourne RFC
Following heavy rain over the preceding week, it was touch and go whether the game at Hartwell Lane would be played but the pitch passed inspection the morning of the game. With conditions heavy and soft underfoot it was always going to be a match centred around game management and forward power.
Melbourne had been struck by the Aussie Flu over the xmas period and several players were unavailable for selection. Within the backline Darryl Banton make his debut at scrum half following his return from a wrist break and jack pearce brought into centre also following a return from injury. In the forwards Chris Purce took over from James Lockhart, Mark Coyne came into the front row. The finishers consisted of Cooke-Rogers, Stephenson and Hall.
Melbourne started positively. Pressure in the early stages saw a break and kick ahead by the green and gold resulting in Iliffe collecting the ball rounding the final defender and scoring centrally for a converted try. 0 - 7
Stoke managed the game well gaining good field position from Marsh' s boot - whenever on the back foot but conditions and the refs whistle definitely affected the flow of the game. Stoke edged the scrum initially with their obvious size advantage causing Melbourne to be on the back foot and this is where Melbourne conceded their first score. With the home side having a scrum inside the Melbourne 22 the referee awarded a penalty try for collapsing the scrum - with no previous warning and the poor ground conditions this was somewhat of a surprise but Stoke did have the advantage in the set piece at this point. 7 - 7
There was very little between the sides but stoke had more possession. Their second score came from captain Marsh as they moved the ball wide and he converted his own score 14 - 7.
Both sides defence were relatively resilient but with greater workload for the green and gold as they faced the main ball carriers of stoke - Salt, Hubbard and Williams. Banton harried well especially at the base of the scrum and regularly niggled the fringes of the ruck. Percival continued his trademark physical performances being a constant nuisance and Hancock excelled in counter attack.
A third score yet again went the way of Stoke as Sigley touched down far right of the pitch but this was to be their last try of the day. as the advantage of the wind and slope was switched with the second half. 21 - 7.
Changes were made for both sides with Spruce, Conlon and Durose all brought on for Stoke and Melbourne bringing Cooke-Rogers, Hall and Stephenson on, the latter switching to a backline role following an injury to Iliffe.
Melbourne had better control and more ball second half, the referees interventions combined with general rustiness from the xmas period meant neither side could get any continuity with ball in hand and the flow of the game stalled and was never allowed to get going.
Melbourne scored their second try following a line-out in the opposition half. the ball was worked centrally through phases before Percival burst through the defence and a covering tackle. the tackle was incomplete and the big eight found his feet and the line. 21 -14
The only further points the game came from the boot of marsh as a converted penalty took away the chance of a loosing bonus point.