Stoke 3 Stratford 29
Midlands One West
STRATFORD secured a highly impressive victory at the then third placed Stoke on Saturday to move up to eighth place in the table.
In the first half Stratford had the advantage of the slope but neither side were able to score for the first half an hour.
Stoke’s attacks were repeatedly rebuffed by the Stratford defence, with strong tackling on the gain line, and Stoke could make virtually no headway and had to resort to kicking for territory.
Stratford kept attacking from deep, working the ball well through the phases, but they gave away too many penalties at the breakdown and lost possession as a result.
Eventually the deadlock was broken when Stoke returned a Stratford kick but their players, already looking weary, failed to retreat, so giving Stratford a penalty.
Fly half Simon Brain put the ball into touch and at the lineout Stoke went up early yet again and were penalised. Dave Pritchard at No 8 took the kick quickly and offloaded to flanker Jimmy Richardson, who very nearly scored, but was held up by the Stoke defence.
At Stratford’s five-metre scrum Stoke were penalised as their scrum half and skipper went beyond the ball into an offside position. Stratford’s ever-alert scrum half Drew Pritchard took the penalty quickly and ran in behind the posts. Brain slotted the conversion and Stratford were 7-0 up.
Less than five minutes later Stratford, feeling confident, scored again. From a maul in the centre of the park the ball went out to the backs and outside centre Sam Kirby kicked through and gave chase.
The Stoke scrum half in defence kicked the ball away out the back in a bit of a panic and so gave Stratford another five-metre scrum. This time Dave Pritchard picked up off the back of the scrum and popped the ball to James Wootton, who had swapped for this game from his usual second row to inside centre.
Running a lovely line, he took the ball at pace and let physics do the rest as nobody could stop his mass moving at speed and he scored Stratford’s second try. Brain converted from 15 metres in from the left touchline and the lead was doubled to 14-0.
Stoke nearly scored when a high ball was dropped by Stratford and was kicked through by the chasing Stoke player. The referee immediately blew for the knock-on – much to the justified annoyance of the home crowd – and Stratford were let off the hook.
Salt was rubbed into the Stoke wound when Stratford scored a few minutes later. Stoke were penalised at a maul and Drew Pritchard took it quickly but was immediately tackled by a Stoke player, who cost his side another ten metres and earned himself a yellow card.
Although the penalty was kickable, Brain put the ball into the corner as Stratford went for the jugular. At the lineout Stratford set up the maul and worked it well by shifting the point of pressure. Then prop Geoff Dyson broke off the back and crashed over the line in the right-hand corner to take the score to 19-0.
Just before the end of the first half Stoke turned over a Stratford scrum and, from their own scrum, worked the ball into the twenty-two. Stratford conceded a penalty which Stoke elected to kick as the clock had gone red, so the first half finished 19-3.
Early in the second half good pressure from Stratford resulted in a penalty in the Stoke twenty-two which Brain slotted through the uprights to cancel out the Stoke score and restore the commanding 19-point lead at 22-3.
Stoke continued to battle hard through the second half but Stratford’s defence was easily up to the job. The tackles by Stratford could be heard around the ground and the Stoke injury breaks became longer and longer.
Stoke’s frustration boiled over at one point when their tight-head prop had a go at Dyson and his punch and headbutt could be seen from the far side of the field. The referee, however, responded by sending both players to the sin-bin.
Stratford had a number of promising attacks and the wingers Toby Jones and Dan Whitby and full back Joe Cook caused Stoke any number of problems with their pace and good use of the boot. As the half progressed Stoke were playing for pride and Stratford were chasing the fourth bonus point try.
Close to full time Stratford dispossessed Stoke and Kirby kicked through to the right-hand corner and gave chase with substitute hooker Tom Hall in support. The Stoke defender managed to get to the ball first but Kirby pulled him down at the second attempt and Hall was straight over the ball to win a penalty for holding on.
Drew Pritchard took it quickly and, with the Stoke defence in disarray, passed the ball to brother Dave who scored Stratford’s fourth try. Brain supplied the icing on the cake by slotting over the conversion.
This was only Stoke’s third home defeat of the season and equalled their biggest losing margin. Stratford move up into eighth place in the table above Whitchurch, who lost heavily to leaders Newport.
Stratford return to action on February 21 at third placed Worcester Wanderers.