Close match becomes rout as Stratford class tells
When Stratford visited Whitchurch earlier in the season they came home without a point, losing by 36-21. Going in to the match on Saturday Stratford were second place in the league, four above Whitchurch, so with home field advantage the large crowd were hoping the tables would be turned and expected a win.
Stratford started brightly and had the majority of possession and kept Whitchurch pinned in their own half despite some handling errors. After just eight minutes Stratford kicked a penalty into the corner and had an excellent chance with an attacking line-out. The ball was moved quickly across the pitch from right to left and centre Sam Kirby seized on a half-gap for a score in the corner. Nathan Geekie, playing on the wing, did the honours with the conversion and Stratford led 7-0. Stratford maintained the pressure and won another penalty but this time elected to take the three points.
Whitchurch then forced their way back into the match and Stratford started to soak up the pressure in their own half. Eventually the disciplined defence slipped and started to concede penalties. The visitors decided that they needed to get on the scoreboard and kicked a penalty from a central position to make it 10-3.
Stratford continued to be under pressure with a lot of the decisions going against them much to the annoyance of the vocal crowd. Close to half-time though the home team did manage to get a decision in their favour and from the central position it was easy pickings for Geekie. The first half finished 13-3 but after the initial ten minutes most of the pressure had come from Whitchurch.
Whitchurch continued to dominate territory and possession in the first ten minutes of the second half. They managed to drive across the Stratford try line but were held up by some desperate defence. At the subsequent five metre scrum Whitchurch showed dominance in the pack for the first time and drove Stratford back over the line for their first try. The conversion was pushed across the face of the posts but Whitchurch were right back in it at 13-8. Five minutes later they closed the gap even more with a penalty and the crowd were tense with nothing in it at 13-11.
Two minutes later the mood was lifted with a great individual try. Fullback Jo Cook got hold of the ball wide on the right and started jogging across the pitch behind the Stratford line looking for an opportunity. When he spotted a slight gap he turned on the afterburners and headed for the posts. The Whitchurch defence seemed slightly stunned by his pace and he slipped a half tackle for a score under the posts. Geekie added the extras and 20-11 allowed the crowd to breathe.
But the relief only lasted three minutes. Whitchurch had an innocuous scrum just inside the Stratford half close to the touchline. The ball came out to Whitchurch’s big winger who powered down the short side and slipped one tackle for a score in the corner. Again the conversion was wide but the score was now 20-16. Geekie slotted another penalty a few minutes later to extend the lead to 23-16 but there was nearly twenty minutes still to go.
Stratford extended their lead further after Kirby made a break through the defence and very nearly got to the line. The Whitchurch defence infringed in trying to stop him and Stratford put the ball into the corner. The pack then executed what has become a regular feature of their game when lock Tom Mylott caught the ball, the pack drove forward and loose-head Simon Baldwyn touched down for the try. Geekie slotted the conversion from out wide and there was clear water between the sides at 30-16.
Stratford had not finished scoring though and piled the pressure on to a tiring and somewhat demoralised Whitchurch. The rampant home side forced a series of penalties and line-outs and substitute back row Jimmy Richardson eventually found a gap for Stratford’s bonus point try. Yet another successful kick by Geekie and it was all over at 37-16.
But just to rub salt into the Whitchurch wound, right on fulltime, some lovely interchanges by the backs saw Geekie score a try of his own. For the first time in the match Geekie missed from the tee but seven from eight, including a couple from the touchline, was still a great kicking performance. So the match finished 42-16 with Stratford cementing their place at number two in the table. It was a good all round performance with several contenders for Man of the Match but the Dick Workman Cup was awarded to centre Sam Kirby for his work in both defence and attack.
Stratford have just four matches left and, although Bridgnorth look set to be easy champions, there is still a battle for second place. The crunch game for Stratford is in two weeks time away to third place Bournville who have a game in hand and are just four points behind. Hereford remains a dark horse in sixth place but with lots of catch-up matches still to play. Stratford have a rest week on the 12th so the next match is that all important visit to Bournville on the 19th with plenty of time to get back for the France v England game in the evening.