Stourbridge RUFC 26-26 Chester RUFC
16th February 2019
This was a match with an extraordinary twist in its tail. In the last 10 minutes it seemed more likely that Chester would lose quite heavily and come away with nothing writes Des Hickie. Yet once again the team demonstrated its resilience, fitness and unwillingness to give up until the final whistle. In doing so, they not only earned their best away result at Stourbridge in recent years, but came away with three league points (2 for the draw and a 4 try bonus) which left them joint top of the league with Hull Ionians on 79 points. This league still has some twists and turns left in it before the end of the season. Fylde, in fourth place, lie only two points behind on 77.
Stourbridge certainly showed the greater directness and accuracy in the first half. They stole an overthrown Chester lineout deep in the away 22, carried through several phases before moving the ball wide, where outside centre Joe Heatley found a mismatch in midfield. He made a break before slipping the ball inside for second row Llyr Griffiths to cross for a converted try. However, Chester struck back almost at once. This time it was Stourbridge’s turn to overthrow a lineout. Chester recycled quickly three times in midfield before the ball went left to fullback Tom Foden near the touchline. Taking the ball 40 metres out, Tom sold an excellent dummy to fool Reece Beddows on the home right wing. He carried into the Stourbridge 22, stepping inside the last defender to score a fine try. The strong wind blew the ball off the tee just as James Robins was about to address it. He didn’t have time to reset it but dropped for goal from near touch, and managed to kick a most unlikely conversion.
The impetus, however, lay with Stourbridge. Within three minutes they scored again after going right from an attacking scrum. They recycled quickly back left and fly half Sam Wilson made a clean break in midfield. His pass left was a poor one, but it was taken by left wing Dan Rundle, who showed a clean pair of heels to cross for a converted try. In the 25th minute Rundle again showed his excellent pace to score a second converted try, when the ball was moved quickly wide following an attacking scrum. Chester’s midfield defence had been disrupted by James Robins’ retiring injured, and the home side’s use of dummy runners in midfield was enabling them to find useful space in the outside channels. Towards the end of the half Chester, at last, had a period of sustained pressure. Shay Owen was now spending much of his time at fullback and on the wing, but returned to No.8 for an attacking scrum near the Stourbridge line. He picked up at the base and went right, showing speed and power to cross for an unconverted try.
The half time score, 19-12, was pretty good for the visitors, given the balance of play in the first period. However, within two minutes of the restart the Stourbridge inside centre Hal Riley found a hole in the restructured Chester midfield, cutting back inside on a short ball following an attacking scrum. Gareth Simpson’s conversion made the score 26-12, and the Chester side were clearly in some trouble. They recovered quickly in the 47th minute, when the pack produced an excellent driven lineout. The ball was held up just short of the Stourbridge line, but was moved back left to Shay Owen, now acting as left wing! Shay stepped inside the home cover and crossed for a try converted by Callum Bennett to put his side back within a score at 26-19.
As the half progressed, despite the closeness of the score, Chester found it difficult to mount sustained attacks. Their scrum was under persistent pressure and the lineout malfunctioned periodically. When the ball was moved wide, the home defence was up quickly and caused a hesitancy in the Chester attack. The last ten minutes saw the game swing strongly to Stourbridge. They set up camp on the Chester five metre line with a seemingly endless series of reset scrums. Given their general dominance at the scrum, it seemed highly likely that at some point this would put them out of sight and leave Chester with no league points at all. With the clock well past 70 minutes Stourbridge scrum half broke left and slipped the ball inside to a forward who crossed the Chester try line. At this point the referee, Mr. Phil Davies, raised his arm and appeared to indicate a try had been scored. However, he instantaneously collapsed injured. The scoreboard registered a home try, but this was premature. It took several minutes to treat Mr. Davies. When he was restored it became apparent that he had not awarded a try. He consulted his assistants and concluded that none of the officials had seen a try scored, to the vociferous umbrage of some of the home support.
Chester held out against yet another home scrum before winning a scrum of their own. They won a penalty at that scrum, but lost the ensuing lineout. Mike Craven then produced surely the turnover of the season, wrenching the ball free despite the attentions of several Stourbridge players. Chester ran the ball into the Stourbridge half where the home side coughed up a breakdown penalty. By now the clock was in the red, but Chester had a lineout inside the home 22. The pack set up an excellent driving maul, which they moved infield for a very well worked try against clearly tiring opponents. Josh Morris then completed a difficult conversion into the wind, to give Chester a well-earned draw.