Stratford 32 Walsall 23
Midlands One West
STRATFORD secured a hard fought victory over their fellow mid-table side from the Black Country at Pearcecroft on Saturday.
The away fixture in November had been a 27-27 draw, so there was every chance of another close encounter, and so it proved.
Five minutes in, and with the wind at their backs, Stratford opened the scoring starting from a free kick. Scrum half Drew Pritchard took the kick quickly just inside the Walsall twenty-two and offloaded to Number 8 Dave Pritchard who broke through the defensive line.
Pritchard then passed the ball to fellow back-rower James Wootton who drove very close to the line before being brought down. Drew Pritchard was on hand to continue the move and after skipping left found a gap for a try just left of the posts. Simon Brain slotted the conversion and Stratford were leading 7-0.
Stratford conceded a series of penalties and after five minutes Walsall had a shot a goal directly in front of the posts and narrowed the deficit to 7-3.
Less than five minutes later Stratford extended their lead. From a scrum deep inside the Walsall twenty-two, Stratford went right and got close to the line with skipper Jack Young cutting back, but the Walsall defence managed to stop him but knocked-on in the process.
From the subsequent scrum Drew Pritchard faked right but the ball went left and back row Liam Jones scored Stratford’s second try in the left corner to make it 12-3.
Play moved back and forth for the next 20 minutes until Stratford won a penalty in the Walsall twenty-two 15 metres wide of the posts and Brain used the wind well to guide the ball through for a 15-3 lead.
Five minutes later though Walsall were back in the game. Walsall attacked down the right wing and chipped the ball over the top.
The kicker was illegally blocked and from the penalty Walsall kicked into the corner. At the resulting lineout Walsall worked the maul well and crashed over in the corner and the half finished 15-8 with just a single score between the two sides.
From the Walsall kick-off Dave Pritchard uncharacteristically knocked-on and hooker Tom Hall took the ball in an offside position to deny Walsall possession. Walsall took the easy three points and the Stratford lead was down to just four.
Within five minutes Stratford had opened the gap again. Second row Tom Mylott stole the ball with his fingertips at a Walsall lineout to win back possession for Stratford. Centre Young broke down the right hand side with full back Jo Cook in support.
Once the ball was in Cook’s hands nobody was going to catch him and he scored Stratford’s third try in the corner for 20-11.
Walsall hit back five minutes later with another penalty and again ten minutes after that to close the gap to 20-17 and Stratford were once again forced to turn on the magic with a scintillating backs move that resulted in winger Dan Whitby going under the posts for a bonus point try duly converted by Brain which gave Stratford a commanding 27-17 lead.
Stratford’s lack of understanding of the referee continued and Hall got a yellow card for infringing at a ruck and Walsall once again kicked the points and were within a single score.
Less than five minutes later yet another penalty brought them even closer at 27-23 but Stratford defended well with 14 men until close to full time when they were back up to a full complement.
From a scrum on the right in a good position Stratford worked the ball over to the left and got close but were turned over by the Walsall defence.
Stratford managed to win the ball back though and it went right to Brain in acres of space and he closed the game out with a try in the corner.
Stratford earned a full five points and Walsall went home with nothing other than pride from an entertaining game. A little bit more ambition, rather than relying on the very good boot of their kicker, may have brought about a different result.
Matchday sponsors IND Solutions Ltd selected prop Simon Baldwyn as winner of the Dick Workman Cup for man of the match.
On Stratford travel to Whitchurch, who are just below eighth placed Stratford in the table.