Bishop's Stortford 1st XV 37 Cinderford 17
By John Allanson
Eat your heart out, Steve McQueen! Eighth win out of nine fixtures since Stortford were rock bottom in the league in January is a colossal achievement by coaches and players and must surely ensure National One rugby again next season.
Stortford started strongly and were 7 points ahead within 4 minutes, when Manu Vunipola capitalised on early pressure to make a good break and set Reuben Bird-Tulloch clear to the line, which he reached, despite a defender catching him from his blind side, as he coasted to the line. Tom Banks converted and the side looked confident until a penalty conceded in midfield allowed the visitors to win their own lineout inside the Stortford 22. Cinderford's driving maul from the lineout proved far more effective than in the reverse fixture and the referee quickly awarded a penalty try, as the powerful visiting pack drove at the line, yellow Seb Brownhill at the same time. Undaunted, Stortford swept onto the attack from the restart and were soon awarded a penalty, which Banks converted to take his side back into the lead. There followed a period of scrappy play, as Cinderford's aggressive breakdown play neutralised the home side's attacking ambitions. It took another Stortford transgression in midfield to break the deadlock, as the visitors went through the familiar routine of touch-kick, lineout, driving maul to register their second try - without, this time the referee's intervention. This did mean that scrumhalf, Alex Frame had to make a tricky conversion in order to double his side's tally and move into a 4 point lead. Stortford continued to look much the more threatening team in open play, but had to settle for two further penalty goals from Banks to take them into a two-point lead after 37 minutes. Two yellow cards in quick succession to the visitors had left them short-handed as the break loomed and Stortford took full advantage, spinning wide quick lineout ball off the top and allowing Nick Hankin to round the last defender for a try, confidently converted by Banks.
Cinderford started the second period strongly and, assisted by some loose play by Stortford, dominated early territory. One penalty shot from right in front of Stortford's posts was pulled wide a few minutes into the half, but Stefan Hawley made no mistake from a similar position after 60 minutes to take his side within 6 points, as the home team struggled to exit their own 22. Stortford stuck to their attacking guns and were unlucky only a couple of minutes later, when a training-ground move, involving a switch pass inside from Matt Tomlinson sent Sam Winter galloping into space and the centre's crosskick just rolled into touch, before Joss Linney could seize on it for an almost certain try. A turnover from the resultant lineout, though kept the home team on the front foot and some quick handling in midfield gave Linney enough room on the opposite wing to run round for a try under the posts. Banks duly converted to stretch the lead to 13 points but, with time running out, Cinderford launched by far their most threatening attack of the game and it took a series of strong and determined Stortford tackles to keep their try-line intact. Eventually, a turnover was forced at a breakdown, with Andy Christie playing a key role and, in the best passage of play of the game, the home side swept the length of the pitch, with Linney and Bird-Tulloch figuring prominently, before the replacement backrow dashed up in support to take the final pass and finish of a move he effectively had started. Banks converted to end the game with a hard-fought but, ultimately convincing win.
Despite limited opportunities in what was, generally a pretty tight match, Nick Hankin was awarded the Forward Corporate Finance Man of the Match bubbly on a day when well over 300 participants in our annual charity Ladies' Day had done their best to drink the world dry of prosecco! They may have failed in this objective - though probably not by much! - but they and the big team of event organisers certainly succeeded in the primary goal of raising a lot of money for very worthy charities, so congratulations to all concerned.
Finally, sincere thanks must go to match day sponsors, ProCo, not just for their contribution to today's great occasion, but for their fantastic support over many years in producing what is much the best match programme in the league.