Bournville 42 Stratford 29
Midlands One West
A HEAVILY depleted Stratford provided valiant resistance but had to settle for a try bonus point for their efforts at promotion-chasing Bournville on Saturday.
A significant number of players were unavailable to play either through absence or injury and, as the seconds are playing in the Warwickshire Cup final on Sunday, players would be ineligible if they played for the firsts, so they could not be called on either.
Therefore, the team that faced Bournville included three players making their debuts this season, some injured players and a number playing out of position.
The weather conditions were ideal for the free-flowing rugby which second placed Bournville prefer, so an already tough fixture was going to be very tough indeed.
Stratford started brightly and had the bulk of territory and possession for the first ten minutes, but Bournville opened the scoring with a penalty the referee awarded from the far side of the scrum.
Although the kick went directly over the top of one post it was nevertheless given, so the home side led 3-0.
From the restart, Stratford’s weak tackling allowed Bournville to run the ball straight back at them for an unconverted try in the corner.
Stratford fought back and centre Andy Conway very nearly made it over the line after breaking through the middle of the Bournville defence. Stratford did win a penalty and went for the lineout.
The pack got very close to scoring and Tom Hall, playing in the back row, made it across the line but was held up. At the scrum Bournville were penalised for driving up and again Stratford went for the lineout.
Stratford lacked jumpers and Bournville managed to get up in front and knock the ball back on their side. Skipper and hooker Mark Hibberd reacted quickly though and dived on the loose ball for a well deserved, if unorthodox, try and Stratford were very much back in the game at 8-5.
At the restart Craig Voysey uncharacteristically failed to catch the ball deep in the twenty-two and gave Bournville a good attacking platform. After a couple of phases they crashed over the line for another try that went unconverted to lead 13-5.
Yet again Stratford pulled themselves right back into the game. From a penalty on halfway Nathan Geekie, playing fly half, drilled the ball to the Bournville twenty-two.
The Stratford pack mauled from the lineout and Bournville were incapable of preventing the drive all the way to the try line. Prop Simon Baldwyn scored the second try which Geekie converted and Stratford were just a point behind at 13-12.
Stratford’s job did not get any easier when Hibberd was yellow-carded for taking the man early although it was a very close call and it seemed a harsh punishment as Stratford’s discipline had been pretty good.
Soon afterwards, Bournville used the extra man advantage to score their third try between the posts before the hosts were also reduced to 14 players a couple of minutes later.
It was close to the end of the first half when Bournville had a sustained period on the Stratford line. Centre Jack Young managed to turn the ball over and kicked downfield to get some breathing space.
A great kick chase saw the Bournville full back under pressure but over-enthusiasm gave away a penalty. This was quickly taken, behind the referee’s back, and the Stratford defence was caught napping and Bournville scored the fourth try adjacent to the posts. The conversion was a formality and at half time the score was 27-12.
Bournville continued to open the gap in the second half with several decisions going their way. An attempted interception by Stratford that was flicked up into the air was deemed a deliberate knock-on. From the subsequent lineout close to the try-line, Bournville were able to score again.
Stratford continued to play some good rugby and Conway used his deceptive strength to force his through the defence and break for the line. With one man to beat and Geekie in support, a simple slip pass gave Stratford their third try and the scoreline was 32-17.
Stratford then managed to turnover a Bournville lineout but then spilled the ball in a crunching tackle. Bournville took the opportunity well and once again burst through the middle for another try and a commanding 39-17 lead.
Stratford continued to push Bournville hard and were stopped illegally several times in the red zone, but the referee had apparently used up his yellow card allowance.
Within five minutes though, Johnny Smith, a last-minute call-up, managed a score in the left corner to give Stratford a bonus point for four tries.
A few minutes after that Dan Whitby anticipated well and intercepted a Bournville pass on the halfway line. The Stratford supporters knew nobody was going to catch him as he streaked towards the line. Geekie converted and the scoreline was a more respectable 39-29.
With the 80 minutes up, Bournville won a penalty which they kicked to give a final score of 42-29.
Considering the make-up of the squad, for Stratford to come away with a bonus point was a great result and the players deserve a real pat on the back for their efforts.
Bournville were always favourites but certainly did not have everything their own way. The bonus point moved Stratford into fourth place above Dudley Kingswinford, who lost 24-15 at home to Moseley Oak.
The firsts now have a weekend off and their next game is on Saturday, March 25 (2.15pm) at home to third placed Burton.
This Sunday (2.15pm), Stratford seconds take on Nuneaton seconds in the Warwickshire Cup final at Broadstreet.