Walsall 12 Stratford 40
Midlands One West
STRATFORD moved four points clear in second place thanks to a bonus point victory in the Black Country on Saturday and defeat for third placed Bournville at home to lowly Silhillians.
Basement boys Walsall kicked off into the wind but down the slope and soon forced Stratford into conceding a penalty. From the subsequent lineout Walsall broke through the slightly casual defence and with just five minutes gone had a surprise 5-0 lead.
Stratford then settled into the game and soon had Walsall under pressure but a mix-up resulted in scrum to the home side. Although they won their ball, great pressure from Stratford prevented Walsall from clearing their lines and Stratford then had a scrum of their own on the five-metre line.
Dave Pritchard, playing at No 8, broke off the back of the scrum and strolled over the line unopposed for a try next to the posts. The conversion was a formality for full back Nathan Geekie and Stratford were 7-5 up.
Ten minutes later Stratford increased the lead through the forwards. Good counter-rucking resulted in a penalty which was kicked to the left corner. Taken cleanly at the lineout, the forwards easily drove over the line as prop Simon Baldwyn collected the five points.
It took less than ten minutes for Stratford’s third try to arrive and this time the backs did the work. After a little bit of untidy play, winger Dan Whitby – on his first start of the season following injury – cleaned up and kicked downfield.
Pressure on the Walsall defence forced a turnover and the forwards drove on a little way before a clever kick over the top into the in-goal area was collected by Geekie and dabbed down. Converting it himself, the full back moved the score on to 19-5 which was how the half ended.
Just five minutes after the restart Stratford scored the inevitable bonus point try and this time it was a combination of backs and forwards.
An attacking lineout saw Stratford secure the ball in the Walsall twenty-two. The ball then went out to the backs and Whitby, possibly in the wrong place but still running a good line, took the ball at pace and broke through for a well deserved try. Duly converted by Geekie, Stratford had a very comfortable 26-5 lead.
Five minutes later Stratford scored again. A driving maul from a lineout got Stratford close to the line despite numerous attempts by Walsall to illegally pull it down.
The backs then got involved and, after some slightly less than slick play, the ball went across to the right wing for Stratford’s fifth and Whitby’s second try.
Despite being close to the touchline and into the wind, Geekie’s kick was finely judged and the scoreline of 33-5 reflected Stratford’s dominance.
Walsall continued to fight though and it was testimony to their team spirit they managed to score another try with five minutes left.
Stratford were not finished though and close to full time Pritchard finished the way he had started with his second try, converted by fly half Nick Taylor.
Bridgnorth look set to win the league as they remain five points clear of Stratford with two games in hand, but the battle for second place is very much on, with Bournville having a game in hand on Stratford and appearing to have a more favourable run-in.
Stratford host sixth placed Whitchurch on Saturday (3pm).