It was perhaps the key match of the season when Stratford made the trip to Bournville on Saturday. The two teams were the main contenders for second spot in the league this season so ten points were at stake. The weather was dry and a little chilly with a breeze blowing from one end of the dry and dusty pitch to the other. Stratford started brightly and for the first ten minutes dominated possession and territory before winning a penalty in a central position. With the breeze in their favour they elected to kick and fullback Nick Taylor slotted the three points. Just two minutes later Bournville hit back with a penalty of their own to level the scores. And a few minutes later the home side had the opportunity to go ahead with another penalty but the attempt was pushed wide.
Shortly afterwards Bournville did manage to take the lead. They moved the ball quickly from left to right and the winger kicked though and, with a favourable bounce, recovered the ball for a try in the corner. Stratford fought back quickly and a good kick chase by Tom Mylott at the restart put the Bournville receiver under pressure and won a penalty. Another good kick by Taylor and the score was 8-6. Both sides were competing well and the two sides exchanged penalties, 11-9.
Bournville again got the luck of the bounce when Stratford charged down a kick but the home side recovered the ball and forced their way deep into the Stratford half. Stratford defended well but infringed at a ruck and the referee sent skipper Mark Hibberd to the sin bin. Despite the extra man advantage Bournville were unable to capitalize and the half finished 11-9
Just two minutes in to the second half and, with Stratford still down to fourteen, Bournville managed to score. Good defence by Stratford forced Bournville into touch about fifteen metres from the Stratford line. Bournville had sussed out Stratford’s lone jumper and managed to get up in front and steal the line-out. They were then able to crash through for a relatively easy try close to the posts. The conversion was a formality and for the first time there was some clear water between the sides at 18-9.
Despite being back up to fifteen Stratford left a hole at a ruck and Bournville broke through the middle to extend their lead by another seven points. Stratford continued to fight and five minutes later winger Dan Whitby went on a scorching run through the Bournville defence. A final offload and centre Andy Conway scored in the left hand corner. The difficult conversion into the breeze was just wide but Stratford was still just in it at 25-14.
Ten minutes later Stratford closed the gap even more. A penalty was kicked deep into the left corner for a Stratford line-out. Just managing to hang on to the ball Stratford surged forward and was only stopped by a Bournville infringement. This time Stratford opted for the scrum. The visiting supporters watched eagerly as No. 8, Dave Pritchard, broke off the back of the scrum and tripped over the flanker’s feet. He managed to retain possession though and the ball went out to the backs. Substitute winger Charlie Powell ran a lovely diagonal line to cut back through the Bournville defence for a try. The conversion attempt bounced back off the posts, symbolising Stratford’s fortune for the day, and the score was now 25-19.
The effort of fighting their way back into the match perhaps took its toll when five minutes later some weak tackling allowed the Bournville winger to break through on the left. At 32-19 there was too big a mountain to climb. Three minutes later and Bournville scored another try. Again they had good fortune as, despite three players being at least five metres offside, play was allowed to continue and Bournville recovered a loose ball for an easy score under the posts and a final score line of 39-19. Stratford continued to battle to the end and all the players can hold their heads high. It just was not Stratford’s day and Bournville really seemed to want the win at any cost. There were a number of cheap shots throughout the match and afterwards it emerged that they had even been spying on Stratford’s closed group on Facebook.
The result leaves Stratford in third place six points behind Bournville and with just three matches each to play it looks likely that the gap is just too big to close.