Stratford 36 Walsall 0
Midlands One West
IT was top against bottom at Pearcecroft on Saturday and the match went with the form book as the hosts secured a bonus point victory which increased their lead over second placed Worcester Wanderers to two points following the latter’s failure to secure a bonus point in their win at Dudley Kingswinford.
The visitors did make a bright start in damp conditions with the breeze at their backs but they were unable to penetrate the Stratford defence despite several visits deep into the home side’s twenty-two.
Desperate clearing kicks were either sliced or out on the full so for a while Stratford were unable to relieve the pressure, although Stratford eventually forced a turnover via a penalty.
Playing in the centre of the park with a bit of space and ball in hand, the home side pushed forward with a series of carries by backs and forwards. Scrum half Drew Pritchard sent a speculative chip over the defensive line into the twenty-two with winger Callum Cook in hot pursuit.
The Walsall defender called loudly for the mark but, unfortunately for him, failed to complete the other half of the move which was to actually catch the ball and Cook pounced on the bouncing ball and opened the scoring with a try in the right corner.
Nath Geekie made the difficult conversion look easy to put Stratford 7-0 up.
The lead was extended just over ten minutes later when Stratford pushed Walsall deep into the right-hand corner of their own twenty-two and forced a scrum. The scrum was solid throughout the match and gave good ball to the backs.
This time centre Jack Young took the ball at speed and with his trademark half-step burst through the defensive line. With only one person then to beat, it was odds-on he would score and he duly obliged. The conversion was missed.
The next period of play was disrupted by some lengthy delays owing to injuries and play was a bit patchy. Stratford were slightly over-ambitious at times and there were a number of handling errors.
Defensive play was strong though, with every Stratford player working hard for each other to ensure there were no gaps, and there was only one further score in the half courtesy of a Geekie penalty so the sides changed ends at 15-0.
The second half started brightly for Stratford although the kick-off itself failed to go to plan. Walsall’s clearing kick failed to find touch and found Callum Cook instead who passed it to brother Jo at full back.
Jo then punted the ball across the park to where Geekie was waiting to collect and deliver. He then converted his own try and Walsall had a mountain to climb at 22-0 down.
The visitors’ determination could not be faulted though and they immediately started pressurising Stratford, but they just could not find a way of penetrating the line. On the one or two occasions they made a half-break the cover was there as Stratford worked equally hard.
Within ten minutes Stratford scored again. A half-kick on the deck from Callum Cook to the touchline curled back infield and Young kicked it on again and it was a foot race to the line.
Young decided to take the percentage option and gather the ball rather than kicking again and going for his second try. With the ball secured, Stratford moved it quickly through the hands to the far side of the pitch and for some reason everyone seemed to stop playing, which suited centre Sam Kirby who strolled across the line virtually unchallenged.
Geekie made the extras and Stratford had the game sewn up at 29-0 with the try bonus point in the bag.
The final score of the match epitomised the real team effort that was at the heart of the Stratford win. A driving maul by the Stratford pack took the ball 30 metres down the right-hand touchline. The backs then took over and, with quality passing and a nice loop round to create the extra man, the ball traversed the park to where substitute winger Toby Jones was waiting to run the ball in for Stratford’s fifth try and Geekie’s magic boot added the extras.
Walsall provided much stiffer opposition than expected for a side at the bottom of the table and they played hard for the full 80 minutes. Unfortunately, having had a number of key players poached by other sides, they just lacked the ability to penetrate the Stratford defence.
Stratford put together a good team performance and should, perhaps, have been able to put a few more points on the board. The Dick Workman Cup for man of the match was awarded to Young for his solid work in defence and his electrifying line breaks in attack.
The next four matches for Stratford will be tough ones against sides all currently in the top six, starting with Saturday’s visit to Whitchurch.