Stratford do the Double on Burton
Dogged performance rewarded
Stratford First XV travelled up to Burton on Saturday for the last away league game of the season. In the reverse fixture at Pearcecroft Stratford just shaded it by two points, and with Burton just three places lower in sixth, it was likely to be a close match. There was bright sunshine for the warm-up but the match itself was played in overcast conditions, with the occasional shower and a stiff breeze blowing across the pitch.
Burton kicked off and right from the start Stratford were on the defensive. The first ten minutes of play was all in the Stratford half with Burton having most of the possession. Burton forced a number of turnovers and dominated the scrum. Stratford conceded a number of penalties and when one was in a central position Burton took advantage to open the scoring. Five minutes later and Stratford conceded another penalty in the same position so with fifteen minutes gone Burton led 6-0.
Stratford showed good mental strength and gradually worked their way into the match. The strong defence that has been a feature all season kept Burton at bay and despite possession and territory the home side could not find a way through and resorted to chipping over the top and giving away the ball. The Stratford scrum was often going backwards but skilful work by No. 8 Liam Jones, and scrum-half Drew Pritchard meant that the visitors were still getting their own ball. Thirty minutes in and Stratford had a chance to open their own account with a penalty out on the right. Despite the stiff breeze winger Nathan Geekie slotted the ball through the uprights.
The half ended with the score 6-3 after 48 minutes of elapsed time due to a few lengthy breaks for injuries. The stop-start nature of the game prevented either side from getting into a rhythm.
Stratford started to believe in themselves a bit more in the second half and Burton failed to come up with any way of dealing with the Stratford defence. Ten minutes into the second half winger Dan Whitby made a storming run down the right wing. The Burton defence were unable to force Whitby into touch and he stayed up until support arrived. Burton was then on the back foot as Stratford attacked through phase play in the centre of the pitch and very nearly crossed the line. It was only through illegal play that Burton was able to keep them out and had a player sent to the sin bin as a result. There was the potential for a penalty-try but the referee just awarded the penalty which Geekie put away easily to level the score.
Stratford pressed hard with the advantage of the extra man and once again Burton conceded a penalty and Geekie put Stratford in front for the first time 6-9.
Ten minutes later another Burton attack stalled and they were forced to chip over the top. Whitby gratefully collected the ball and began the counter. After a couple of phases the ball went to centre Sam Kirby who burst through the Burton defence and set off for the try line. He nearly made it all the way himself before playing the percentages and offloading to fly-half James Southall who had the clear line for the first try of the match close to the posts. Geekie made it the full seven. Five minutes later Stratford had an opportunity to extend their lead but the kick was just dragged wide. Burton were soon down to fourteen men again with another infringement in the red zone but Stratford only managed to use the advantage to score another three points courtesy of Geekie’s boot. But 6-19 was a good lead and Burton would need two converted tries to overtake Stratford.
Like the first half there were a number of stoppages which interrupted the flow of the game. Seven minutes from time Stratford was able to put the match to bed. With a little bit of luck after an extremely flat pass Stratford pushed deep into the left corner of the Burton twenty-two. Stratford won a scrum and once again Burton were penalised for an early engage. The kick was quickly taken and spread wide to the right through the backs who worked fluently together with a number of looped runs to create a gap in the Burton defensive line. Winger Callum Cook finished the move by streaking through the gap for Stratford’s second try. The conversion was just wide and the final score was 6-24.
It was a very mature performance by Stratford who trusted themselves and each other and put in the hard work until the scores came.