Stratford 31 Bournville 15
Midlands One West
STRATFORD returned to both winning ways and the top of the table thanks to an impressive victory against fellow promotion-chasers Bournville, for whom victory could have sent them top of the pile instead.
Stratford went into the match in second place having been replaced at the summit by Worcester Wanderers the previous weekend, but this time around Wanderers were beaten by Hereford and the Black & Whites took full advantage with this important bonus point victory on Saturday.
There was everything to play for in conditions that did not bode well for the large crowd as a strong and blustery wind blew down the length of the pitch and sporadic rain ensured a sodden pitch which meant the rugby was unlikely to be pretty.
Bournville won the toss and elected to play into the wind for the first half. Stratford took full advantage of the decision and forced Bournville to defend in their twenty-two and the visitors were unable to break out.
The sustained pressure bore fruit after less than five minutes in the form of a penalty which Nath Geekie, playing at centre, slotted through the uprights.
Stratford continued to push hard using the wind to their full advantage with some testing kicks deep into Bournville territory. Fifteen minutes into the first half a beautifully weighted kick saw the Bournville full back under pressure from winger Callum Cook and he was forced to concede a scrum just five metres out from the line.
The Stratford pack provided a solid platform and the ball was worked left and right patiently, waiting for a gap in the defensive line. Number 8 Dave Pritchard cleverly switched play with a long pass back inside and, when brother and scrum half Drew Pritchard got his hands on the ball, he darted through the line for a score just wide of the posts which Geekie converted to give Stratford a 10-0 lead.
Geekie struck again eight minutes later when the Bournville full back fluffed a clearing kick that landed in among his ambling forwards. As they made no effort to retreat the referee had to award a penalty for offside and Geekie pushed the score to 13-0.
Bournville are a quality semi-professional side though and fought back, eventually managing to make it into the Stratford half. A Stratford lineout went astray in the strong wind and from the subsequent scrum Bournville showed what they were capable of.
They worked the ball well through the backs and created a two-man overlap on the left wing. Full back Jo Cook attempted to cut off the ball but was a split second late and it was an easy score in the corner. The conversion into the wind fell short and the score was now 13-5.
Stratford were unfazed by the score and continued with their tactics of kicking into the corners and applying maximum pressure. From one of those kicks Bournville had a lineout in their own twenty-two.
Second row Tom Mylott stole the ball at the front and as he landed the rest of the pack joined around him in textbook style and mauled the ball forwards.
Bournville were taken unawares and, with much verbal encouragement from the home fans, Stratford drove across the line and back row Liam Jones got the ball down in the right-hand corner.
Stratford knew the second half would be tough so continued to press forward. Once again the pressure worked well and Stratford had an attacking scrum.
The pack provided an excellent platform throughout the match and this time the good ball went wide to the left where Callum Cook was able to dive into corner. The half finished with Stratford leading 23-5 but the wind would now be against them.
Bournville opened the scoring in the second half with a penalty but Stratford continued to play excellent rugby, both in attack and defence.
Unlike Bournville they were able to make a number of attacks against the wind into opposition territory. During one of these attacks Stratford won a penalty but Geekie had left the pitch with what looked like a hamstring pull. However, centre Jack Young stepped up and fired the ball through the posts to nullify the Bournville penalty and push the gap back to at least three scores at 26-8.
Five minutes later Bournville got one of those scores. It was a lucky try when a kick ricocheted and popped up nicely for the slightly surprised second row to run in between the posts. The conversion was good and the hosts’ lead narrowed to 26-15.
It was not Bournville’s day though. They knocked-on from the restart and the Stratford pack continued to assert their dominance with a penalty at the scrum. Drew Pritchard took it quickly and enticed the Bournville prop into an illegal tackle and a ten-minute break in the sin-bin.
Stratford continued to press forward with the man advantage and Bournville offered no real threat. Close to the end of the game replacement Tom Hall very nearly managed to score with his first touch of the ball as he snaffled an overthrow at a lineout but was pulled down just short of the line.
Stratford recycled the ball and once again mauled it over the line for Jones’ second try of the day which secured the bonus point and a great win.
The fans agreed it was probably the best performance so far this season. In very difficult conditions Stratford played some beautiful rugby in attack and were solid in defence as the pack dominated and the backs were tactically astute.
The Dick Workman Cup for man of the match went to winger Callum Cook, although there were many contenders.
The top of the table is very tight as just five points separate the top six and Stratford face another stern test at fifth placed Bridgnorth on Saturday.