Stratford 47 Hereford 11
Midlands One West
STRATFORD laid down a marker with an impressive performance in Saturday’s season opener between two sides who narrowly missed out on promotion in 2015/16.
The Black & Whites finished the campaign strongly in third place and Hereford were just one place behind so this had all the potential to be a good game.
The weather was a bit blustery but the rain which had softened up the pitch earlier in the day held off for most of the match.
Just one minute into the game Stratford opened the scoring. A solid scrum just in their own half provided good ball to the backs and Jack Young made a trademark break through the defensive line, followed by a sweet little offload to fellow centre Sam Kirby.
Straightening just enough to fix the defender, Kirby then slipped the ball to full back Jo Cook who used his pace to pass the remaining defence for a try on the right.
Winger Nathan Geekie slotted over the conversion and Stratford had an early 7-0 lead.
Just two minutes later Geekie’s boot added another three points when Hereford conceded a penalty on their 10m line.
Hereford opened their account with a penalty from Stratford’s 22 when slow support left No 8 Liam Jones illegally clinging on to the ball.
The healthy crowd had to wait another five minutes before the next score when once again a solid scrum from Stratford provided good ball deep in Hereford’s half.
A neat loop-around by fly half James Southall created extra men on the outside and, as the Hereford defence drifted wide to cover, Southall seized on a gap to speed through for a try. Geekie did the honours to make it 17-3.
Stratford’s defence was working well and Hereford were unable to really penetrate, but they took advantage of another penalty to add three more points.
This was negated just three minutes later with a long range effort by ‘The Geek’ followed a few minutes later by another and at 23-6 things were looking difficult for Hereford.
Stratford were not finished for the first half though and added another converted try with seven minutes to play. This time the pack provided good ball from a lineout on the left and the backs moved the ball quickly through the hands across the width of the pitch and a deft pass from Cook put winger Dan Whitby in the clear.
Whitby powered along the right wing for Stratford’s third try and it was 30-6 at half time.
Play in the second half was a little flat and not helped by Stratford losing debutant flanker Craig Voisey to the sin-bin just a few minutes in.
Hereford eventually managed to break through the Stratford defence for a try of their own but, at 30-11 and with the Stratford pack dominant in the scrum, the hill was just too big to climb.
Five minutes later the hill became a mountain as Stratford’s bonus point try arrived and this time the pack did it all by themselves.
A penalty allowed Stratford to kick deep into the corner and a drive-over try was on the cards. Hereford attempted to hang off the maul and draw a penalty but the ball stayed at the front and substitute Paul Davies scored the try on his debut.
With the conversion just shaving the post on the wrong side, the scoreline was a near unassailable 35-11.
It was just not Hereford’s day when within ten minutes they conceded another penalty in their 22 with an added ten metres for dissent.
Stratford opted for the scrum and Voisey used the opportunity to pick up and dive over the line for his debut try. The conversion was wide but at 40-11 it was academic.
Hereford’s heads were well and truly dropped by the time Stratford scored their sixth try.
Hereford were under pressure from Stratford’s defence and a wild pass backwards went loose. Cook pounced and kicked the ball through and gave chase and he easily beat the defenders and showed great footballing skills as he gently tapped the ball over the line before touching it down for a try next to the posts.
The conversion was a formality and the final score was 47-11. The Dick Workman Cup for man of the match went to the tireless Jimmy Richardson.
Although it was only the first game, Stratford put in a strong all-round performance and, with a strong squad of players to draw on, it certainly bodes well for the rest of the season.
The bonus point win puts Stratford top of the league on points difference and there is no reason they should not stay there.
On Saturday they visit local rivals Kenilworth.