Hereford 27 Stratford 29
Midlands One West
STRATFORD jumped a place to fifth as they ended the campaign with a hard fought success at Hereford on Saturday.
The Black & Whites have struggled in the past on a pitch that is typically very boggy and does not suit their style of play. On this occasion though, the sun was shining and the pitch was rock hard, so things were likely to be very different.
It started well for Stratford who were first to score with just five minutes on the clock. A scrum on halfway gave Stratford good ball and inside centre Jack Young broke through the first line of defence.
A neatly executed chip pushed Hereford deep into the corner and the desperate clearing kick failed to find touch. Stratford quickly moved the ball from the right wing over to the left and full back Jo Cook’s pace saw him get outside the last defender.
Cook fended off the tackle and, with a neat offload, he put his brother Callum in the clear to score in the corner.
Less than five minutes later Hereford equalised. The home side managed to turn the ball over at a lineout and make a break down the right wing, with only a high tackle stopping progress.
Hereford could not make the advantage count so came back for a tap penalty which they managed to bustle over the line for an unconverted try.
Hereford soon went ahead after winning a penalty at a ruck deep in the Stratford twenty-two with the referee missing a high tackle on Jo Cook. From the lineout, Hereford moved the ball out wide for a second try and a lead of 10-5.
This lead was extended when, with 25 minutes on the clock, they drove over from a lineout.
Stratford got back into the game within ten minutes when good ball from the scrum allowed the backs to once again work their magic. This time it was outside centre Andy Conway who scored in the corner and fly half Johnny Duncan converted and the score was 15-12.
Five minutes later Stratford had the chance to go level after Jo Cook was taken out off the ball in front of the posts. Duncan’s kick hit the right-hand upright, ricocheted on to the left post and came back into the field of play and the half finished without a further score.
Five minutes into the second half Stratford reclaimed the lead. Consecutive penalties by Hereford saw Stratford advance deep into the corner and, although they crossed the line, it was deemed held up.
At the subsequent scrum Drew Pritchard, playing at No 9, span the ball wide to Young who cleverly delayed his pass by half a second before popping to Conway who took the ball at speed for a well executed second try. Duncan added the extra points to put the visitors 19-15 up.
It was not long before Stratford extended their lead. Once again Hereford conceded penalties and allowed Stratford to get deep into the twenty-two.
With another penalty advantage, the ball was worked rapidly from left to right where part-time ‘winger’ Matt Cook was waiting to crash over for the bonus point try.
Just three minutes later, after a period of frenetic play, Stratford kept threatening the Hereford try line until super-sub Paul Davies crossed the line with his first touch of the ball. Duncan hit the post with the conversion but Stratford had a healthy 29-15 lead.
Hereford were not dead and buried though. Both sides were tiring in the sunshine and there were frequent stoppages due to the hard ground.
Hereford were gifted a scrum on the own twenty-two and, despite the dominance of the Stratford pack, managed to get the ball away and the pace of the Hereford winger saw him score on the left.
Three minutes later Hereford were right back in it. Once again the number 14 broke through and put Stratford on the defensive. Hereford worked the ball closer and closer to the line, retaining possession well before a hole opened up for a score between the posts.
The conversion was a formality and the score was 29-27 with eight minutes still on the clock.
Stratford managed to keep play in the Hereford half and a series of scrum resets helped the clock wind down. It was last play of the game and No 8 Dave Pritchard broke off the back of the scrum but uncharacteristically was stripped of the ball.
Fortunately Hereford just hoofed the ball down field and Jo Cook was able to tap it into touch to end the match.
Hereford earned a well deserved two points but Stratford came away with the full five. It was a good end to a good season in which Stratford finished fifth thanks to a bumper crop of bonus points.
Stratford’s next match is on Saturday, May 13 against SCUF in their annual international fixture. This is an event not to be missed and kick-off at Pearcecroft is 3pm.