Ampthill 34 Bishop's Stortford 1st XV 24
By John Allanson
Stortford's winning run brought to a juddering halt by a powerful Ampthill side.
Early possession was limited for Stortford and was lost all too easily, with the swarming attack of recent matches not at all in evidence. The hosts took full advantage, being far too competent to waste their resultant dominance of the ball. Some uncharacteristically poor tackling in midfield after 5 minutes allowed a clean break and Jon Kpoku was in support to run in a simple try under the posts for a 7 point lead. Stortford managed to work their way doggedly into Ampthill territory, but didn't look like breaking through an impressive home defence and, 10 minutes into the game settled for three points from Tom Banks' boot, when the home side offended at a breakdown in front of their posts. Once again, though, Ampthill's aggressive attack found a gaping hole in Stortford's midfield defence with 20 minutes gone and room was made to allow left wing, Sam Baker to touch down in the corner for an unconverted try. Stortford responded five minutes later with another 3 points to Tom Banks, with the home defence, once again proving hard to break down, but Ampthill's lead was soon stretched to 13 points. A poor Stortford lineout direct from the restart presented the hosts with the ball, triggering a period of remorseless attacking from the home side and, although Stortford this time defended stoutly, they eventually conceded a penalty try, after Tom McCrone had been yellow carded for collapsing a maul driving at their line. The visitors fought back doggedly, though and, with time running out in the first half, turned the ball over in Ampthill's half and exerted some pressure, forcing a couple of penalties. Home second row, Henri Williams was yellow-carded for a cynical offence at a breakdown in front of his own posts and Banks kicked the goal to take the halftime score to 19-9.
With Ampthill now a man short, Stortford were on the front foot early in the second half, but, once again, had to settle for another penalty goal to Banks after 5 minutes. The home side responded immediately and a clever kick towards touch, put Stortford's defence under pressure, winning an attacking lineout, which Ampthill's well-organised pack won and drove over for another try, well converted to stretch the lead to 14 points with barely 7 minutes gone. The home side appeared to be in total control and soon added another 3 points to their lead from a penalty conceded by Stortford at a breakdown. A number of tactical substitutions were now made by the visitors, though and Manu Vunipola in particular soon made a telling impact. He quickly made a big dent in the previously impregnable home defence, stepping and driving past a handful of defenders, which seemed to lift the whole Stortford side. Two penalties in succession were won under Ampthill's posts, the second producing a yellow card for replacement, Maama Molitika. Though down again to 14 men, the home side defended tigerishly and Stortford had to go through many phases in order, eventually to create a one on one out wide for Vunipola, who was able to force his way over for an unconverted try with some 25 minutes gone. We now saw something of the attacking teamwork that had demolished recent oppositions and another telling break 4 minutes later by Vunipola found Dec Caulfield in space and the hooker had just enough pace to make the try line from some 30 yards out. Banks' conversion took his team within 5 points and Stortford tails were clearly up. Unfortunately, a couple of knock-ons broke the team's momentum and the losing bonus point, which their spirited comeback probably deserved, soon was lost. A good break from the home scrumhalf from the second scrum took him into space and Stortford's cover defence was unable to deal with a clever bouncing grubber kick, which ended up in the hands of speedy winger, Spencer Sutherland for the decisive score with 6 or 7 minutes left. Stortford came back gamely, with Jimmy Rea making a great leaping catch from the restart and they were perhaps unlucky not to have seen a third home player sin-binned, when he was taken out in the air, for which a penalty was awarded. In the event, though, Ampthill's well-organised and aggressive defence saw the game out with some comfort and it was probably that aspect of their strong overall display that deservedly won them the day against a resilient Stortford team.
Finally, a word of congratulation to Stortford's tremendous travelling support. A neutral observer would have been hard pressed to tell which of the sides was at home!