Stratford 32 Whitchurch 3
Midlands One West
ANYONE not at Stratford RFC’s Pearcecroft ground on Saturday missed a real rugby treat.
Visitors Whitchurch had made the trip from Shropshire for a fixture that is always fiercely contested and, with both sides having lost six of their first nine games, there was everything to play for.
Stratford were fielding their secret weapon in the form of Dave, Ant and Drew Pritchard – the first time the three brothers had seen league action together for quite a few years.
Fifteen minutes into the match Stratford won a penalty and fly half Simon Brain drilled the ball deep into Whitchurch territory. The Stratford lineout proved to be a real strength throughout the game and the forwards mauled the ball towards the line.
The forwards were determined not to give the backs a look-in and worked their way forward before back-rower Ant Pritchard forced his way over the line for the opening score and a lead of five.
Less than ten minutes later Whitchurch closed the gap with an easy penalty kick from in front of the Stratford posts and just five minutes later Whitchurch could have gone ahead when Stratford conceded a similar penalty – perhaps the home side’s main weakness on the day – but the ball rebounded off the post and the Stratford defence kept the visitors out.
Stratford continued to dominate in attack and defence as Whitchurch struggled to make any ground and Stratford won the battle for territory.
A promising move down the left wing by returning full-back Joe Cook was desperately defended by Whitchurch and Cook received what was effectively a team yellow card for illegal play at the ruck. Soon afterwards Whitchurch also received a team yellow for persistent offside.
Close to half time Stratford were awarded a penalty just on halfway for the tackler not releasing. This was taken quickly by Ant Pritchard who broke through the retreating Whitchurch line before offloading to his brother Drew for a simple run-in and Stratford’s second try to put them 10-3 up at the break.
In the second half Stratford continued to have the upper hand and a ten-metre carry over the gain line by birthday boy hooker Tom Hall put Whitchurch in defensive trouble.
Quick ball and quick thinking by Brain saw a lovely cross-field kick sail out to the right wing where Dan Whitby was well positioned and, with pace to spare, the try was inevitable.
Brain’s conversion was good and Stratford had a healthy lead of 17-3. Just three minutes later Stratford were awarded a penalty which Brain slotted through and the score moved to 20-3.
Whitchurch were made of tough stuff and, despite a number of injuries, continued to fight hard but it was not their day. Continued pressure from Stratford forced mistakes and when a defensive lineout was deemed “not straight” Stratford had an attacking scrum close to the Whitchurch line.
Scrum-half Pritchard took the ball from the back of the scrum and, with a snap between his legs worthy of an NFL centre, the ball went to winger Toby Jones for Stratford’s fourth try in the left-hand corner.
With a four-try bonus point in the bag, a healthy lead and the clock ticking down, Stratford did not rest on their laurels and continued to turn the screw.
The final score of the match – like the first – came from a lineout when, after working through the phases, lock Stuart Fletcher crossed the line for a try 15 metres in from touch. Brain’s tricky conversion was good and the final score was 32-3.
Full credit to Whitchurch for battling throughout and making it such an entertaining game but Stratford were just too good in all departments. This was the performance that Stratford have always threatened this season but just failed to deliver and it certainly gave the home crowd something to cheer about.
The choice of man of the match was a difficult one as all 18 in the squad contributed so much. The Dick Workman Cup was awarded to the player controlling it all at the centre of the well-oiled machine, Simon Brain.
Stratford will look to maintain this momentum on Saturday (2.15pm) when they visit second from bottom Barkers Butts.