Burton 6 Stratford 24
Midlands One West
STRATFORD claimed victory in their final away game of the campaign on Saturday to close in on a third placed finish, although victories for leaders Bridgnorth and second placed Bournville ended the Black & Whites’ faint chance of a top two finish and promotion.
Stratford were narrow 26-24 victors in the first meeting between the sides this season in December and, with Burton comfortable in mid-table, Stratford knew they were in for a good test.
Burton kicked off and right from the start Stratford were on the defensive. The first ten minutes of play were all in the Stratford half and Burton had most of the possession.
The hosts forced a number of turnovers and dominated the scrum. Stratford conceded a number of penalties and when one was in a central position Burton took advantage to open the scoring.
Five minutes later Stratford conceded another penalty in the same position and with 15 minutes gone Burton led 6-0.
Stratford showed good mental strength and gradually worked their way into the match. The strong defence that has been a feature all season kept Burton at bay and, despite possession and territory, the home side could not find a way through and resorted to chipping over the top and giving the ball away.
The Stratford scrum was often going backwards but skilful work by No 8 Liam Jones and scrum half Drew Pritchard meant the visitors were still getting their own ball.
Thirty minutes in Stratford had a chance to open their own account with a penalty out on the right and despite the stiff breeze winger Nathan Geekie slotted the ball through the uprights.
The half ended with the score 6-3 after 48 minutes of elapsed time due to a few lengthy breaks for injuries and the stop-start nature of the game prevented either side from getting into a rhythm.
Stratford started to believe in themselves a bit more in the second half and Burton failed to come up with any way of dealing with the Stratford defence.
Ten minutes in winger Dan Whitby made a storming run down the right wing and the Burton defence was unable to force Whitby into touch and he stayed up until support arrived.
Burton were then on the back foot as Stratford attacked through phase play in the centre of the pitch and very nearly crossed the line.
It was only through illegal play that Burton were able to keep them out and had a player sent to the sin-bin as a result. There was the potential for a penalty try but the referee just awarded the penalty which Geekie put away easily to level the score.
Stratford pressed hard with the advantage of the extra man and once again Burton conceded a penalty and Geekie put Stratford in front for the first time at 9-6.
Ten minutes later another Burton attack stalled and they were forced to chip over the top. Whitby gratefully collected the ball and began the counter.
After a couple of phases the ball went to centre Sam Kirby who burst through the Burton defence and set off for the try line. He nearly made it all the way himself before playing the percentages and offloading to fly half James Southall who had the clear line for the first try of the match close to the posts and Geekie made it the full seven.
Five minutes later Stratford had an opportunity to extend their lead but the kick was dragged just wide.
However, Burton were soon down to 14 men again after another infringement in the red zone, but Stratford only managed to use the advantage to score another three points courtesy of Geekie’s boot.
A lead of 19-6 was still a good one though and Burton needed two converted tries to take the lead.
Like the first half, there were a number of stoppages which interrupted the flow of the game, but seven minutes from time Stratford were able to put the match to bed.
With a little bit of luck after an extremely flat pass Stratford pushed deep into the left corner of the Burton twenty-two. Stratford won a scrum and once again Burton were penalised for an early engage.
The kick was quickly taken and spread wide to the right through the backs who worked fluently together with a number of looped runs to create a gap in the Burton defensive line and winger Callum Cook finished the move by streaking through the gap for Stratford’s second try, although the conversion went just wide.
It was a very mature performance by Stratford who trusted themselves and each other and put in the hard work until the scores came.
Hereford could still pip Stratford for third place but the only thing Stratford can do is make sure they win their final game on Saturday at home to Crewe & Nantwich.