Loughborough Students 26 Bishop's Stortford 1st XV 41
By John Allanson
Upbeat Stortford get the better of Loughborough in a fast, free-flowing game on the artificial surface, with a second impressive team performance in successive matches.
Stortford made a fast start to the game and, despite tremendous Loughborough tackling, crossed the try-line after 5 minutes, when George Keen made a clean break and found Dan Elsom in close support to run in from the 22 for an unconverted try. The visitors were soon back on the front foot and scored their second try with 10 minutes gone, when Charlie Kingham burst through the middle, almost making the line himself from 30 yards out, but quick ball saw Joss Linney in out wide. Tom Banks stepped up to make a great conversion from the touchline to stretch the lead to 12, which became 19 after 20 minutes, when James Apperley scored his second great individual try in two weeks. This time he dispensed with the fancy footwork of last week, taking a short pass from George Cullen close to halfway to burst clear. Once again, though he surprised the opposition with his pace over distance, feinting passes to supporting players and in the end outpacing the covering players to make the line with room to spare. Banks again added the extras. The home side fought back and forced their way through their lively backs into the Stortford 22, but a good cover tackle by Cullen dislodged the ball for a crucial turnover. A breakdown penalty to Stortford shortly after was taken quickly by Banks, who ran 30 metres and, when he was hauled down some 40 metres out, another penalty quickly resulted. This produced a yellow card for Loughborough's fullback, Tim Bitirim and a shot at goal for Banks, which was pulled wide. The relief for the home side was, though short-lived, as a good take from the restart saw Nick Hankin make a clean break to run some 20 metres before feeding Rob Duff outside to run in the bonus point try with 25 minutes gone. The Students now showed real character, battling their way into the game and giving the visitors' pack a hard time in the scrums, causing the referee to award a series of penalties. This took Loughborough steadily upfield, despite some tremendous tackling by Stortford. Eventually, the official lost patience and, following another penalty at a scrum on the 5 metre line, sin-binned Seb Brownhill. Unsurprisingly, Loughborough opted for another scrum and a further Stortford offence produced a penalty try to take the halftime score to 7-24.
The home side started the second half strongly, but were held at bay by solid Stortford defence and, with 5 minutes gone, a loose home pass in midfield was seized on quickly by George Cullen, who had the pace to run the ball in for a fifth try, giving Banks a relatively easy conversion. Loughborough were undaunted and took full advantage of a poor Stortford lineout close to halfway to force their way into the Stortford red zone through their always threatening backs. Two successive penalties took them to the 5 metre line and a quick tap saw their forwards to the line, where they were able to force their way over for a try under the posts. It was little surprise in this free-flowing game, when Stortford registered their 6th try after 68 minutes. A powerful break up the middle by replacement hooker, Harrison King found Manu Vunipola in space on the home 22, but with defenders still to beat. The flyhalf showed great presence of mind to turn the retreating defenders, cutting out to the left and taking the last tackler over the line. Banks converted to stretch the lead to 24 points, but still Loughborough came back, though they were perhaps fortunate to be rewarded 6 minutes later with a second penalty try, when Duff, attempting to cut out a long crosskick was presumably considered by the nearby assistant referee to have deliberately knocked the ball into touch. The player was yellow-carded and the officials clearly felt that the home winger, flying in on the outside would certainly have gathered the difficult kick. Stortford were reduced to 13 men for the final 4 minutes of the game, when Hankin was penalised 3 minutes later for what was considered a late and no-arms challenge on the Loughborough left wing. Stortford's 13 men bounced back onto the attack, but a knock-on was quickly seized on by Loughborough's lively backs, who dashed some 50 metres upfield. When they were stopped by good cover defence, they ruthlessly exploited the inevitable space out wide on the opposite wing with a pinpoint cross kick from flyhalf, Charlie Reed flying into acres of space, such that the winger was able to allow the ball to come to a stop over the line before touching it down for his side's own bonus point, with no defender yet in reach. The conversion was missed and the game was closed out a couple of minutes later, when the home side offended at a breakdown some 30 metres from their line, as Stortford again threatened with their running game. Banks calmly slotted the goal to bring the final score to 28-41.
With the whole squad performing well today and skipper, Sam Winter returning to action alongside stalwart, Steve Ball playing his first game of the season in a notable win by the Blues at Barnes, Andy Long is going to be faced with some difficult selection problems for another big game next week, at home to Chinnor.