Stratford 22 Earlsdon 30
Midlands One West
STRATFORD emerged empty-handed from Saturday’s league opener as an Earlsdon team who arrived with a vocal group of supporters and a win at any cost attitude won a scrappy game which feautured two red cards.
Stratford, as ever, were slow coming out of the blocks and Earlsdon had most of the possession in the first ten minutes. Determined rucking by the visitors forced a penalty which was pushed deep into the Stratford twenty-two.
From the lineout Earlsdon moved the ball into the centre of the pitch where skipper and outside half Scott slotted a drop goal between the posts to open the scoring. Just three minutes later Stratford conceded another penalty for holding on and Scott’s kick, this time from the tee, put Earlsdon six points in front.
Play continued in a scrappy fashion with the ball being turned over until Earlsdon pushed a kick through towards the Stratford line. The resulting clearing kick failed to find touch and Earlsdon broke through the scrambling Stratford defence to touch down under the posts. The conversion was a formality and the score moved to 0-13 and Stratford had a small hill to climb.
Stratford then settled more into their usual rhythm and started to use the driving maul to good effect. Earlsdon repeatedly infringed by coming in at the side and eventually Stratford drove over the line for James Hancock to ground the ball.
The referee mysteriously deemed it held up, however, and awarded Stratford a scrum instead. Jimmy Richardson, playing at number 8, broke off the back and passed the ball to Simon Brain at 10 who quickly flicked it on to Callum Cook for a classic winger’s diving try in the corner.
The conversion attempt was wide but Stratford were on the scoreboard at last after over 30 minutes and trailed 5-13.
The next score was also to Stratford and came from a driving maul. Once again Earlsdon conceded a penalty to stop the maul but Stratford just went to the corner and mauled again from the lineout.
This time it was Richardson who got the ball over the line and Brain converted to bring Stratford to within one point. The score remained at 12-13 until the end of the half, during which time both sides lost a player to the sin-bin following a fracas.
The second half started with more scrappy play until Earlsdon kicked the ball through and won the chase for a try in the corner. This was unconverted but Earlsdon had opened the gap to 12-18.
Five minutes later Toby Jones, standing in for Brain who was still in the bin, hit the post from a penalty but got a second chance a minute later when Earlsdon were penalised as they tried to break out. This time Jones’ kick was good and Stratford were within three points.
Earlsdon scored next from a quickly taken penalty that caught Stratford napping when their backs were deemed offside at a lineout. It was unclear if the referee had signalled an advantage was being played, which might have explained Stratford’s lack of reaction.
In any event, Earlsdon converted and the score was 15-25. Earlsdon were down to 13 players at one point with one player in the bin and another red-carded after an incident with a swinging boot.
It was not long before Stratford made the advantage count when lock Ash Bonner broke through after sustained pressure to score under the posts and Stratford were back in touch at 22-25.
Stratford’s numerical advantage did not last long as replacement Tommy Wright was also sent off for retaliation from the floor when attempting to avoid a stamping. With the match eventually drawing to a close due to frequent stoppages, the Earlsdon penalty kick was pushed wide of the posts.
The Earlsdon chaser got the luck of the bounce as Stratford’s concentration lapsed and scored on the whistle for a final score line of 22-30. The final try earned the visitors a bonus point and denied Stratford any.
Overall the game was not a good advert for rugby with three yellow and two red cards. Stratford allowed themselves to be drawn into a scrap and slipped to Earlsdon’s level.
Hopefully Stratford will show their true form when visiting Hereford on Saturday for what is always a tough fixture. The next home game is on September 20 at 3pm against local rivals Kenilworth.