Stow-on-the-Wold 12 Abbey 24
By Mark Hoskins
A controlled and dominant performance by the pack laid the foundations for a deserved Abbey victory at Stow-on-the-Wold.
Stow-on-the-Wold 12 Abbey 24
A controlled and dominant performance by the pack laid the foundations for a deserved Abbey victory at Stow-on-the-Wold. The visitors scored four tries to claim a bonus point, and the win, coupled with a deduction in points for High Wycombe, leaves Abbey looking increasingly secure in Wadworth 6X Southern Counties North.
A strong crosswind tended to favour Stow in the first half, but after constantly impressive No.8 Max Courtnage won the first lineout of the afternoon, skipper Will Bevan cleared the ball upfield. Courtnage disrupted the first Stow throw in, but after Abbey were penalised, the home side made good use of the wind and kicked a penalty deep into the visitors’ 22. Here, Courtnage again worked wonders, tapping the ball back at the lineout to prevent any chance of a forward drive to the line, and Bevan box- kicked to safety. Winger George Pawlett chased the ball well and secured possession, and Abbey were awarded a scrum. It immediately became apparent that the visitors were the better scrummagers, with the front row of Russ Orrburns, Adam Postlethwaite and Jack Stevenson providing the steadiest of platforms. Courtnage broke from the back of the scrum, and another Bevan kick sent Abbey further downfield.
At this stage it looked as if Abbey might be the first to register points, but Stow looked dangerous when their threequarters ran the ball, and good tackles from Courtnage and full back Jules Greenaway were required to halt the home side’s first meaningful attack. When Abbey retrieved possession, Postlethwaite fed Orrburns, and the prop stormed upfield for 30 metres before he was stopped. But Stow regained the ball inside their own half, and centre James Holmes set off on a brilliant run which took him all the way to the line for an excellent solo try. Winger Jake Collett hooked the relatively simple conversion attempt wide, but after nine minutes of play it was first blood to Stow.
Stow were unfortunate to lose their outside half, Angus Hayward, after just eleven minutes, and Abbey soon began to dominate again. Second row Maurice O’Connell handled well as the visitors moved closer to the home 22, and a kick from Bevan took Abbey to within 15 metres of the line. The next few minutes saw Abbey constantly probing for openings in the home defence. Their lineout, with Bevan excelling in the unfamiliar role of thrower- in, was looking good, and flanker George House, along with O’Connell and Orrburns, made good ground from forward drives. A try looked increasingly likely, and it came after 19 minutes when Postlethwaite fed Courtnage, and the No.8 battered his way over the line. Winger Charlie Shackleford’s conversion attempt was foiled by the wind, but Abbey were back on level terms.
Flanker Chris Shaw secured the restart kick, and after another burst from Courtnage from the back of a scrum, Greenaway, O’Connell and outside half Chrissy Munce took play up to the halfway line. Then Shackleford had a good 20 metre run, and fine support work from Munce and Shaw set up another good position in the Stow 22. Bevan and Shaw moved the ball to the right, and Courtnage plunged over in the corner for his second try of the game. Shackleford again missed the conversion, but after 26 minutes Abbey were looking good.
Centre Mike Beckly was injured soon after this, with Matt Simmons coming on in his place, and Abbey rotated their props with Ed Woodger replacing Stevenson. Woodger, in common with the starting front row, proved to be a solid and reliable scrummager throughout his time on the field. Stow mounted a few counterattacks during the latter stages of the first half, but poor passing let them down on occasions. However, they must have felt points were imminent when Abbey were reduced to 14 men after centre Dan Love was yellow-carded for a second offside offence in his own 22. The home side turned down a relatively straightforward kick at goal (indeed, neither side attempted a penalty kick at the posts at any stage of the game), and Abbey’s defence held out until home skipper Dan Salvage knocked the ball on. A high kick from Bevan ended up going behind him, and when he rush back to catch the ball he was forced to touch down over his own line. But Abbey pinched the ball at the scrum and the combined efforts of Courtnage and Pawlett moved play away from the danger area. Further good running from Shaw, Orrburns, Courtnage and second row Treacle Knights took play up to halfway, and the final move of the half saw Courtnage and Shackleford combine well on the right of the pitch. The half time whistle sounded with 14-man Abbey deservedly ahead at 10-5.
Adam Brooker replaced Knights at the break, and Woodger came off for Stevenson soon afterwards. Love was soon back on the field for Abbey, but Stow had the first scoring chance of the second half, and they would surely have scored a try wide on the right but for a last-ditch tackle from Courtnage. Abbey then found themselves a man to the good when Stow second row Max Fisher was shown a yellow card. Courtnage won the next lineout for Abbey, with Bevan sensibly throwing to him at the front, and House and Orrburns made good ground up the left touchline. A further lineout resulted in another driving run from Courtnage, and as play neared the Stow line, Brooker, Bevan and Shaw all handled before the ball was returned to Bevan in space. Abbey’s skipper broke clear and dodged his way to the line for an excellent try. Shackleford converted to give his side a 17-5 lead.
From the next scrum of the game Courtnage made an impressive 20 metre break, but when Fisher returned from the bin, Abbey rather lost their way for a while and Stow began to look dangerous. Their backs strung some good passing moves together, fewer mistakes were made, and they deservedly came back into the game after 52 minutes when centre Archie Hayward cut through on the right for a good try. An excellent conversion from Collett made it a five point game, and for the first time in the match Abbey looked vulnerable. Stow attacked again, only to see a move halted by a big hit from Postlethwaite, while the home side were not helped when hooker Ellery Millar was penalised first for a crooked throw and then for dummying his throw-in.
Knights and Woodger returned for Abbey in place of Shaw and Orrburns, and it was at this stage that the Abbey scrum really began to dominate. Superb drives won the visitors consecutive strikes against the head, and from the second of these Abbey engineered their bonus point try. Brooker made the initial ground just inside the home 22, and then the supporting Stevenson timed his pass to perfection, giving Knights the opportunity to race the final ten metres to the line. It was important for Shackleford to add the extras, and he did so to put Abbey 12 points in front.
With five minutes of normal time remaining, House was yellow-carded, but even with a seven man pack Abbey looked secure in the set piece. Two further breaks from scrums by Courtnage made valuable ground, and a good run from Simmons took play to the halfway line. At this point, a home forward appeared to stamp on an Abbey player’s head – an incident witnessed by numerous people standing on or close to the touchline. Tempers immediately boiled over, and although play (together with the referee) had moved to the other side of the field, the fighting continued. When matters subsided, Mr McCrudden took the sensible option of blowing his whistle to end the match, while one of Stow’s coaching team equally sensibly led one of his forwards away to cool off in the changing room while everyone else shook hands on the pitch.
This was a very welcome win for Abbey in tricky weather conditions. It was a huge pleasure to witness a game in which Abbey were unquestionably the stronger scrummagers, and this will have brought great satisfaction to coach Luke Harding and his assistant Karl Luff. Max Courtnage, clearly benefiting from the opportunity to make use of steady scrum possession, had another outstanding game – what an asset he is proving to the side. Bevan, as ever, led the team brilliantly, while any member of Abbey’s front five can feel more than satisfied with his afternoon’s work. The team can go into next weekend’s home game with Wallingford full of confidence, and Abbey will be hoping to achieve three consecutive league wins for the first time this season.
Abbey: J Greenaway, C Shackleford, M Beckly (M Simmons 30), D Love, G Pawlett, C Munce, W Bevan (captain), R Orrburns (E Woodger 57), A Postlethwaite, J Stevenson (E Woodger 28-43), J Knights (A Brooker 40), M O’Connell, C Shaw (J Knights 57), G House, M Courtnage
Stow-on-the-Wold: J Fletcher, F Roberts, J Holmes, Archie Hayward, J Collett, Angus Hayward (T Stayt 11-74, O Pearson), D Adams, L Chapman (C Close 49-58), E Millar, C Close (A Piercy 28), W Turner, M Fisher, E Lockey, C Voisey, D Salvage (captain)
Tries: Courtnage (2), Bevan, Knights
Con: Shackleford (2)
Tries: Holmes, Archie Hayward
Abbey: Love, House
Referee: R McCrudden (Gloucester)