Claverdon 36 Stoke Old Boys 3
Midlands Four West (South)
THE LIONS ended the first half of the league campaign with an excellent victory on Saturday which leaves them sitting third in the table and well in the hunt for promotion, writes Charlie Byrd.
Having now played everybody in the division once, Claverdon are just two points behind second placed Evesham and five ahead of fourth placed Kings Norton, having conceded just seven tries in the league.
No opposition team has scored a league try at Ossetts Hole Lane this season against Claverdon, who have the second best defensive record in the league behind leaders Rugby Lions, who are not far ahead in that respect.
Results have exceeded expectations at the club, but reflect the passion and commitment shown by the Lions players.
On Saturday there were a couple of changes to the Claverdon team with club captain James Williams out due to a fractured hand, replaced by vice-captain Charlie Byrd who made his third appearance as captain this season.
Harvey Skinner, Nick Green and Michael Jay were absent, but Tom Johnson and Harry Cox returned to face determined mid-table opposition.
The game started brightly for Claverdon and territory was not an issue in the slightest as the Lions played all the rugby in the Stoke half.
On seven minutes Claverdon had a scrum ten metres out and a strong scrum gave Ross Pollard a very simple pick-up to set a strong platform and several phases were put together. A mixture of backs and forwards combined, with Conor Smith barking orders and running the show.
Stoke did not make it easy with some excellent tackling and a desire to prevent the score, but it was not enough as Smith shipped the ball to Paul Daws on the wing who, after beating his opposite man, scored in the corner, although the conversion was missed.
Stoke Old boys were fired up and roared back at their hosts. They were very quickly into the Lions’ 22 and indiscipline at the breakdown saw a penalty go Stoke’s way in front of the posts which they converted.
However, it did not take long for the home side to find their rhythm again. In a similar fashion to the first ten minutes, Claverdon were attacking with real purpose and making ground fairly comfortably.
Some clever kicking from fly half Doz Ward to the Stoke back three saw the territory statistics go very much in the Lions’ favour. Claverdon had a lineout ten metres out which was won and a wraparound ball to Mark Tilson saw the Lions on the rampage.
The ball was shipped to Seru Rokotuiloma a few metres out and a brave effort from the Stoke centres in the tackle was not enough as the home centre crashed over near the posts and Ward’s conversion made it 12-3.
Claverdon were now in full flow and they extended their lead on the half hour mark when a scrum ten metres out provided yet again an excellent platform for Smith, who drew the man and gave to James Barton.
He took on the Stoke winger and scrum half, who in fairness handled the situation well and held up the Claverdon full back a few metres out, but both flankers Byrd and Tris Hird arrived and drove Barton over the line to score near the corner. Ward’s conversion made it 19-3.
Before half time the boot of Ward slotted over a penalty in front of the posts to extend the lead and the hosts went into the break with a bonus point victory very much in sight.
However, the second half proved to be a different story as a resurgent Stoke side piled on the pressure, but once again Claverdon’s now renowned defence proved up to the task to keep them out.
Good ball retention and phase play really tested the home defence and Claverdon did not help themselves with some discipline issues at the breakdown, allowing Stoke to make ground easily and pile on the pressure.
The visitors were camped in the Lions’ half for the first 20 minutes of the second half. The biggest highlight came about 15 minutes in, when Stoke had a penalty and kicked to the corner.
They won the lineout and set up the maul. The Lions’ pack prevented the maul from scoring but it did not end there. There were ten to 15 phases put together from Stoke, all no more than a few metres out. Claverdon players flew into tackles with bodies quite literally on the line and incredibly Claverdon escaped the period of play without a change to the scoreline.
A few minutes later Claverdon had another penalty on their own ten-yard line which Ward kicked for touch. A dubious decision from the linesman said the ball was kept in by Stoke, however after a couple of phases the ball found its way on to the Lions’ side of the breakdown.
A huge overlap to the right hand side saw several Claverdon players screaming for the ball from scrum half Smith and thankfully he listened to the call and spun it to Chris Lowe, who sucked in two defenders and shipped it on to captain Byrd who drew the last Stoke defender and popped to Rokotuiloma who was now in the clear and ran in the try from 40 metres for his second score of game.
The conversion from out wide by Cox made it 29-3 and the last score came a couple of minutes from full time when a penalty in favour of Claverdon brought about a lineout ten metres out after a kick to the corner.
Good phase play and persistence from the Lions resulted in the score out wide from Daws who ran in his second try of the afternoon and the conversion was again slotted over from out wide by Cox.
On Saturday the Lions close their 2014 league fixtures with a visit to mid-table Atherstone where a victory could lift them into second place on a day when second placed Evesham visit table-topping Rugby Lions.