Stratford 41 Crewe & Nantwich 31
Midlands One West
STRATFORD completed the season with a third successive win to seal a third placed finish, just two points behind runners-up Bournville who had already been promoted.
There was something of a carnival atmosphere at Pearcecroft for the league finale as both sides were playing for pride and, with the 2nds’ match cancelled, there was plenty of noisy support from the touchline for the home side.
Crewe kicked off and both teams got stuck into what proved to be a slightly niggly and fiercely contested game. Less than ten minutes in Stratford conceded a penalty just inside their own half but in a central position.
Crewe elected to go for the three points and the ball just made it over, bouncing on the crossbar on the way, so the visitors had the lead for the first, and last, time.
Ten minutes later Stratford struck back with a try from winger Nathan Geekie who just failed to convert his own score.
A few minutes later Stratford scored again. Breaks down the left by scrum half Drew Pritchard and the right by full back Nick Taylor had Crewe back-pedalling and scrambling defensively and, after a couple of quick phases, winger Callum Cook dived over the line for a try in the right-hand corner and the score was 10-3.
Although Crewe pushed hard with strong runs up the centre and clever kicks into the corners, Stratford seemed to retain confidence in themselves throughout.
When Crewe had a scrum in their own twenty-two, the Stratford pack cleverly turned the scrum and then pushed it into touch.
From the ensuing lineout the Stratford backs worked the ball quickly infield and just as quickly back out again. The Crewe defence seemed bamboozled and a hole opened up for Nick Taylor, coming into the line from full back, to break through for a score ten metres wide of the posts.
Geekie by then had found his kicking boots and converted to put Stratford 17-3 ahead.
Stratford seemed to ease off slightly and allowed Crewe to edge back into the match. When Crewe won a penalty deep in the Stratford twenty-two the home side did not react quickly enough when the advantage did not materialise.
The quickly-taken penalty could not be defended as Stratford players were out of position and Crewe crashed over the line for their first try. Duly converted the score was now 17-10, which was how the first half ended.
Not long into the second half Crewe were threatening the Stratford line but Geekie read a pass through and made a magnificent interception. The winger then sprinted virtually the full length of the pitch to score his second try and secure a bonus point at 22-10.
However, just minutes later Crewe closed the gap again. Once more a quickly-taken penalty close to the Stratford line saw the Stratford players spectating as Crewe scored between the posts for another seven-pointer.
The only saving grace was Stratford’s discipline in not tackling illegally and risking a yellow card. At 22-17, the score was close but the crowd were still enjoying themselves.
Three minutes later the visitors went down to 14 players following a yellow card and Stratford took immediate advantage. From the lineout the pack got very close to scoring but won a five-metre scrum instead.
The forwards provided quick ball to the backs and, with the extra man advantage, the inevitable gap opened up and fly half James Southall went through the middle for a score between the posts.
Geekie’s conversion was a given and Stratford had a healthier lead at 29-17. Ten minutes later the result was in no doubt when, from turnover ball, Stratford drove their way down the pitch and Callum Cook scored his second try of the match.
Crewe never gave up though and when flanker Liam Jones was given a ten-minute rest by the referee they took advantage. Like a scene from Groundhog Day, they used a quickly-taken penalty to score from close to the line. With the extra two points from the conversion, the score was then 34-24.
Despite being a man down Stratford attacked from the restart and worked the ball left and right before an extremely flat pass by flanker Jimmy Richardson found its way to substitute centre Jack Young who used his trademark step to confuse the defence and cut through for a score between the posts and another seven points courtesy of Geekie’s conversion.
Right on full time Crewe managed to shove the Stratford pack back over their own line for a consolation try and the successful conversion was the final act of the game.
Richardson was named man of the match and was awarded the Dick Workman Cup.
Stratford and Bournville had the same record of played 26, won 18, lost eight, but Bournville picked up just two more bonus points.
This has been an excellent season for the Pearcecroft club as a whole, with all the teams doing well and a really positive spirit throughout. With the strong, well motivated and well coached squad, everyone can look forward over the summer to another great season which starts in September.