Stratford 36 Crewe & Nantwich 33
Midlands One West
STRATFORD cemented sixth place with an exciting victory over their fourth placed visitors in the final game of the season at Pearcecroft.
Before the kick-off a minute’s silence was held in memory of Stratford club stalwart Bob Foster who passed away recently.
It was a bright and sunny day with a stiff and gusty breeze in Crewe’s favour for the first half. Stratford started well with most of the possession and territory but could not penetrate Crewe’s defence.
The opening score was against the run of play when Crewe won a penalty which resulted in a lineout deep in the Stratford half. Crewe mauled the ball to the Stratford twenty-two before breaking off and running through the defence for a score virtually between the posts which was easily converted for a scoreline of 7-0 after 13 minutes.
Stratford hit back just ten minutes later after a series of attacks ended close to the Crewe line with a knock-on. At the Crewe scrum the ball was blatantly fed into the second row, which may have been why it flew out of the back of the scrum so quickly.
The ever-sharp Stratford No 9 Drew Pritchard threw himself on the ball for a try in front of a stunned Crewe defence. Jay Kennedy stepped up for the conversion but struggled to keep the ball on the tee in the wind and his rushed kick was pushed wide.
Just five minutes later Stratford won a penalty in the Crewe half which was quickly taken by Drew Pritchard who gained another ten metres as a result. From the Crewe twenty-two and directly in front of the posts Kennedy opened his account and the score was 8-7.
It took just another five minutes for Stratford to increase their lead. Good work at the breakdown resulted in turnover ball inside their own half. Toby Jones, playing at stand-off for the first time this season, provided excellent distribution and the ball soon went wide to winger Dan Whitby on the left.
He set off on a scorching run for the line, skinning several Crewe defenders in the process with sheer pace and a try 20 metres in from the touchline. The conversion fell short in the wind and the score moved on to 13-7.
Stratford continued to play quality rugby as the backs linked well and used good ball provided by the forwards, but were unable to increase their lead.
Crewe scored next from a quickly taken penalty on the Stratford twenty-two and broke through the disorganised defence for a try virtually between the posts. Easily converted, the lead changed hands again at 14-13.
Stratford continued to attack and again got close but were forced into touch by the Crewe defence. Yet again the Stratford forwards managed to steal the ball at the lineout and the Stratford attack only fell short as a result of some illegal play which earned the Crewe player ten minutes in the bin.
Stratford elected to take a scrum and the ball soon flew wide to winger Kennedy in acres of space on the left for a try in the corner. The half finished soon afterwards with Stratford leading 18-14 and still with a man advantage.
Stratford extended their lead five minutes into the second half when a clever grubber kick pierced the Crewe line and bounced up beautifully for Kennedy who scored in the corner. Kennedy judged the wind perfectly to convert his own try and put some clear water between the sides at 25-14.
However, Crewe are a strong side and inside ten minutes they hit back. A Stratford clearing kick failed to find touch and the Crewe full back, who had been testing the home side throughout the match, scored an unconverted try on the left to bring them back into the game at 25-19.
The Stratford pack then deservedly got themselves on to the scoreboard. From a lineout on the left they mauled the ball brilliantly to crash over the line and opened the gap again at 30-19.
The lead was extended further via a penalty on the Crewe twenty-two which Kennedy, in energy-saving mode, slotted from in front of the posts, clearing the bar by a good two inches.
Again Crewe hit back from a quickly-taken penalty and drove between the posts for another seven points and were in touching distance at 33-26, but Kennedy extended the gap with another penalty though and, with the clock ticking, a scoreline of 36-26 looked good for Stratford.
Crewe continued to press though and Stratford lost No 8 Dave Pritchard to a yellow card and things became tense. Using the extra man advantage and what looked like crossing to the partisan home crowd, Crewe scored next to the posts and after the conversion were just three points behind at 36-33.
There was virtually no time left on the clock though and Stratford were able to kick the ball into touch soon afterwards and the excellent referee Carl Adams blew for full time.
Stratford took maximum points and revenge for defeat in the reverse fixture. The Dick Workman Cup for man of the match went to Jay Kennedy, although many others were well in contention.
The final league game of season is on Saturday (3pm) at nearby Earlsdon, who have a very slim chance of avoiding relegation.