Stratford 42 Whitchurch 16
Midlands One West
STRATFORD kept up their promotion challenge on Saturday with a bonus point victory which avenged November’s defeat at Whitchurch.
Tries from man of the match Sam Kirby, Jo Cook, Simon Baldwyn, Jimmy Richardson and Nathan Geekie, plus seven successful kicks from eight from Geekie, sealed the victory to keep the Black & Whites second in the table.
Stratford have just four matches left and, although Bridgnorth look set to be champions, there is still a battle for second place.
Stratford have a rest week this weekend before they visit third placed Bournville, who have a game in hand and are just four points behind, on March 19.
Hereford remain a dark horse in sixth place but with lots of catch-up matches still to play.
Stratford, who lost 36-21 at Whitchurch, started brightly at Pearcecroft and kept Whitchurch pinned in their own half despite some handling errors.
After just eight minutes Stratford had an excellent chance with an attacking lineout following a penalty to the touchline. The ball was moved quickly across the pitch from right to left and centre Kirby seized on a half-gap for a score in the corner. Geekie, playing on the wing, did the honours with the conversion and Stratford led 7-0.
Another Geekie penalty extended the lead to 10-0 before a Whitchurch penalty from a central position got them on the scoreboard.
Stratford continued to be under pressure with a lot of the decisions going against them, much to the annoyance of the vocal crowd.
Close to half time though, the home team did manage to get a decision in their favour and from the central position it was easy pickings for Geekie to boot a penalty to end the first half with the hosts 13-3 ahead.
Whitchurch continued to dominate territory and possession in the first ten minutes of the second half. From a five-metre scrum the visitors showed dominance in the pack for the first time and drove Stratford back over the line for their first try.
The conversion was pushed across the face of the posts but Whitchurch were right back in it and the gap diminished further to 13-11 with another penalty shortly afterwards.
Two minutes later the mood was lifted with a great individual try. Full back Cook got hold of the ball wide on the right and started jogging across the pitch behind the Stratford line looking for an opportunity.
When he spotted a slight gap, he turned on the afterburners and headed for the posts and slipped a half-tackle for a score between the posts. Geekie added the extras to make it 20-11.
However, the relief only lasted three minutes until Whitchurch added another unconverted try before Geekie slotted another penalty to extend the lead to 23-16 with 20 minutes to go.
The Whitchurch defence infringed in trying to stop Kirby’s break and Stratford put the ball into the corner. The pack then executed what has become a regular feature of their game when lock Tom Mylott caught the ball, the pack drove forward and loose head Baldwyn touched down for the try.
Geekie slotted the conversion from out wide and there was clear water between the sides at 30-16.
Stratford piled on the pressure to a tiring and somewhat demoralised Whitchurch. After a series of penalties and lineouts, substitute back row Richardson eventually found a gap for Stratford’s bonus point try and yet another successful kick by Geekie put the hosts 37-16 ahead.
Just to rub salt into the Whitchurch wounds, right on full time some lovely interchanges by the backs saw Geekie score a try of his own.
For the first time in the match, Geekie missed from the tee, but seven from eight including a couple from the touchline was still a great kicking performance.
It was a good all-round display with several contenders for man of the match but the Dick Workman Cup was awarded to Kirby for his work in both defence and attack.