Stratford 29 Newport (Salop) 31
Midlands One West
STRATFORD suffered an agonising last-gasp defeat to leaders Newport on Saturday but can take many positives from what was an excellent performance.
The hosts had to up their game from the previous weekend’s efforts against Moseley Oak to stand any chance of coming away with points and they certainly did so, only to be edged out by a converted try in the final play of the match.
Things did not start well as Stratford fielded the kick-off and drove to their twenty-two, but the clearing kick was charged down and Newport recovered the ball and with a single pass trotted over the line between the posts. With less than a minute on the clock Stratford were already 7-0 down.
Stratford fought back though and within ten minutes had a try of their own. The pack drove a maul close to the Newport line and even managed to force their way over the line but the ball was held up.
At the subsequent 5m scrum, No 9 Matt Newman spotted half a gap and scooped the ball up from the base of the scrum and darted over the whitewash. The conversion fell just short but Stratford were right back in it at 7-5.
It was 15 minutes to the next score when sustained pressure from the visitors had Stratford’s backs to the wall. Despite some fierce tackling by the home side, Newport eventually crossed the line to make it 14-5.
A Jack Young penalty reduced the deficit by three and close to half time it was the Stratford pack that came up with the goods and forced its way across the line in the corner as No 8 Craig Voisey got the ball down.
A difficult conversion by fly-half Young put Stratford ahead for the first time at 15-14 which is how the half finished.
In the second half the lead switched back again almost immediately with a Newport penalty, but then it was Stratford’s turn again.
A promising attack by Newport was shut down and the ball turned over. Winger Callum Cook surged down the left wing before sending a lovely grubber down the line.
He was then cynically taken out of play and Stratford were awarded a penalty. Newport continued to frustrate by refusing to give up the ball and were marched back an extra ten metres as a result.
Young drilled the ball into the corner and Stratford had a lineout just five metres from the Newport line. Again the pack drove back the defence and it was prop Matt Cook who did the honours. There was another good conversion by Young and Stratford were back in front at 22-17.
However, the lead lasted just five minutes. A Newport penalty gave them a lineout close to the Stratford line and the ball went off the top to their backs. They passed the ball quickly across the width of the pitch and stretched the Stratford defence before scoring in the left corner and another good conversion put the visitors 24-22 up.
Stratford pushed hard and pressure on Newport forced a fumble into touch. With very little time left, Stratford took the lineout quickly and kicked deep into the Newport half.
An excellent kick-chase had the Newport defence on the back foot and this time it was Stratford’s turn to charge down a clearing kick. The ball was scooped up and quickly found its way to centre Andy Conway for a try.
Young converted and with just two minutes to go Stratford were back in front at 29-24.
Stratford fielded the restart but failed to get the ball down the pitch and Newport were able to force a penalty from a ruck and put the ball deep into the corner.
Stratford stopped the drive, but only illegally, so Newport once again kicked into the corner. This time Stratford were unable to stop the driving maul and Newport levelled the score with a try.
The clock had turned red when the Newport full back stepped up to slot over the conversion and snatch victory.
Stratford, a 100 per cent amateur side, can certainly hold their heads high for playing a fantastic game of rugby against a well drilled side.
The Newport defence closed down the Stratford backs and the forwards had to work for every metre. The whole Stratford side defended brilliantly with very strong tackling and everyone working hard to be in the right place at the right time.
The Dick Workman Cup for man of the match could have gone to anyone but it had to be a forward and flanker Sam Joyce was given the honour.
Stratford earned themselves two losing bonus points which means that, although still in fifth place, they have closed the gap on fourth placed Dudley Kingswinford to a single point.
Saturday brings the first away fixture of 2017 when Stratford travel to Stoke, who have been very up and down this season, but are always tough to beat on their own turf.