League leaders come to Pearcecroft
Stratford on top form
Saturday was Ladies Day at Stratford Rugby Club and the sold-out event meant there was a large crowd to watch the First XV take on league leaders Bridgnorth. The sun was shining and the conditions underfoot were excellent for free-flowing rugby which was hopefully to the home side’s advantage. Bridgnorth had only lost twice this season and it was going to be a big ask for Stratford still suffering from the defeat at Bournville and without several key players.
Stratford got the match underway and started brightly but just ten minutes had gone when Bridgnorth opened their account. The Stratford pack scrummed well throughout the game and easily won its own ball in the middle of the park. The visitors managed to rip the ball free in a tackle though and attacked down the right wing. They had a two-on-one and the try in the corner was a foregone conclusion. Despite having the wind behind them the conversion fell short but Stratford was behind by five.
Straight from the restart Stratford forced their way back into the match by gaining possession and mounting their own attack through the centre pairing of Andy Conway and Sam Kirby. Conway broke through the Bridgnorth line and Kirby was in support to take the offload. With a couple of defenders still to beat Kirby used his strength and power to crash over the line about ten metres wide of the posts. Nathan Geekie, playing on the wing, stepped up for the conversion and took the extra two points to put Stratford in the lead 7-5.
Bridgnorth pressed Stratford but was unable to find a way through the resolute defence despite getting close to the line. And Stratford was able to force a turnover deep in its own half and the ball flew free back towards Bridgnorth. Geekie gave chase and used his footballing skills to kick the ball down field. It became a footrace between him and the Bridgnorth defender with Geekie hacking the ball on twice more down the wing. The defender fell off the pursuit which allowed Geekie to score in the left corner; a magnificent solo effort. He then iced his own cake with the conversion and the home supporters were grinning at the 14-5 score line.
Bridgnorth continued to press but the Stratford defence was working like a well-oiled machine and held them out. Bridgnorth managed to win a penalty and took the opportunity to narrow the gap to 14-8.
Stratford was brimming with confidence and an attacking maul was illegally pulled down near the Bridgnorth try line and the referee sent the offender to the sin bin for ten minutes. The only weak point for Stratford was the line-out which Bridgnorth was turning over virtually every time so the scrum was called for. The ball was quickly moved out to the backs and, after some very slick interchanges that even impressed the Bridgnorth supporters, fullback Nick Taylor scored in the left-hand corner. Geekie naturally did the honours with the conversion and Stratford was flying high at 21-8.
Close to half-time Stratford increased their lead further. A lovely kick deep into the Bridgnorth twenty-two put them under-pressure and a great kick-chase left the defender with no option but to step into touch. This gave Stratford an attacking opportunity but they had to secure the line-out. This time there was good clean ball which went quickly across to the backs and Conway ran onto a pass at speed to burst through the defence and score the bonus point try. Inevitably Geekie made it seven and the half finished with Stratford having a healthy lead 28-8.
Bridgnorth are not at the top of the table because of luck though and after a stern talking-to the second half was going to be very different. A break down the right wing by Bridgnorth was nearly stopped when the player was tackled into touch but somehow he managed a one-handed offload to his support for a second try. Once again the conversion missed and at 28-13 Bridgnorth needed at least three scores to get back into contention.
For the rest of the half the two sides battled hard but neither was able to penetrate the defence of the other. The scrums were evenly matched and neither side’s lineout was working well so opportunities went astray but with each minute that passed Bridgnorth’s chances of a win, or even a losing bonus point, faded away. Then, close to fulltime, Stratford made one last attack. Flanker Jimmy Richardson threw a long looping pass across to the left wing which substitute Jo Cook collected. Cook had just too much time and space and with his speed and jinking running he made the Bridgnorth defence look very second-rate as he slipped past two defenders for a score under the posts. Geekie took his personal tally to fifteen with the conversion and a final score, as the referee blew his whistle, of 35-13. This was only the third loss of the season for Bridgnorth. The other losing margins were just four or five points to put the scale of the Stratford win in perspective.
Stratford played some excellent rugby both in defence and attack and there were any number of contenders for man-of-the-match but the Dick Workman cup was awarded to centre Andy Conway.