Stratford 36 Crewe & Nantwich 22
Midlands One West
STRATFORD climbed into fourth place thanks to a bonus point victory over a lowly but battling visiting outfit from Cheshire on Saturday.
With less than ten minutes on the clock Stratford were first to score when a solid scrum just inside their own half provided good ball to the backs.
Centre Jack Young very nearly broke through the defensive line but, although tackled, managed a neat offload out of the back of his hand to fellow centre Andy Conway.
He kept the Black & Whites moving forward before passing to full back Jo Cook who had come up into the line.
With winger Dan Whitby in support, Cook hurtled along the right wing and the C&N defender was unable to deal with the two-on-one as a nicely timed pass to Whitby saw the latter put Stratford 5-0 up.
It was not long before the home side increased their lead. Again from a solid scrum, the ball found its way to the centres and Conway broke through the defence with Cook and Whitby in close support.
This time it was Cook’s turn to finish the move with a try between the posts and Nathan Earland at outside half slotted over the conversion for a 12-0 lead.
Ten minutes later the pack provided the platform for yet another try from a scrum in the C&N twenty-two. This time No 8 Craig Voisey broke off the back and slipped the ball to James Southall at scrum half.
In a well choreographed move, Young ran a beautiful line that cut back on the inside. He collected the pop pass from Southall and the defence were completely flat-footed as he blasted through for a try between the posts.
This was a fine move that fully deserved the seven points as Earland converted.
It was not all one-way traffic though and pressure from C&N gave them a lineout on the Stratford twenty-two when a clearing kick fell short.
The visitors worked the ball infield where Stratford conceded a penalty and an easy three points to get them started.
Ten minutes later they closed the gap further when a penalty gave C&N a lineout deep in the Stratford half from which they mauled the ball closer to the try-line.
C&N’s hooker Woodward was their outstanding player and time and time again he made great carries that Stratford seemed unable to stop.
With the defence going backwards, C&N scored the inevitable try between the posts and at 19-10 the visitors were back in the match.
Stratford’s defence continued to be uncharacteristically leaky and C&N scored again, this time wide on the left, to make it 19-15 at half time.
The second half started badly for Stratford when the restart fell short to give C&N a scrum on halfway.
Stratford continued to give them two or three metres every tackle which inevitably left holes in the retreating defence. These were exploited well and, after a converted try on the right, C&N took the lead for the first time at 22-19.
It was not looking good for Stratford as C&N were full of confidence following the comeback and the two sides battled hard for the next quarter of an hour.
Then a Stratford kick deep into the C&N twenty-two was knocked on, giving them a scrum in a great position close to the line.
The invigorated pack then drove them close to the line and got a penalty advantage. This gave the backs free ball and Conway muscled his way over the line for a try between the posts.
Drew Pritchard, on at scrum half, made the conversion and the home supporters could breathe again at 26-22 up.
Five minutes later Stratford supporters could smile again when the lead was extended to two scores. Once again it started from a good scrum followed by a rapid break on the right wing and the in-form Whitby forced his way past two defenders for his second try.
At 31-22, C&N would not even get a losing bonus point so threw everything they could at Stratford to get another score.
For a long time Stratford had to absorb the pressure close to their own line, but they were up to the task as C&N started to tire.
In a last-ditch attempt to get that one extra score, C&N threw the ball wide to the left but the attackers were seriously outnumbered and Whitby was able to dart out the line for the intercept.
C&N were only able to watch the victory parade as the winger ran the full length of the pitch to claim his second hat-trick in successive matches.
That brought the match to a close and the visitors could feel aggrieved to have come away empty-handed from a very entertaining fixture.
The man of the match award went to Conway for his work in both defence and attack.
On Saturday Stratford visit sixth placed Dudley Kingswinford who recently enjoyed a fine victory over leaders Newport, so it promises to be a very tough fixture.