Bishop's Stortford 1st XV 24 Cambridge 6
By John Allanson
Stortford battle to a well-deserved win in this huge local derby between two sides sitting alongside one another on the fringes of the Nat 1 relegation zone.
With Cambridge having edged by the finest of margins the last three matches between the two sides, they came to Stortford with the clear and, apparently, sole intention of stifling the home side's natural free-flowing game. They attacked the breakdowns aggressively and, despite giving away a whole string of penalties in the process, managed to choke off a lot of possession at source. This produced a first half largely bereft of running rugby, with the visitors showing very little attacking ambition and Stortford's persistent efforts being largely frustrated by the swarming Cambridge defence. As a result, penalty goals exchanged by Tom Banks and Ben Penfold on 8 and 11 minutes were all that the two sides had to show for a huge amount of endeavour, until the 17th minute. At this stage, Stortford finally managed to string together a few phases of quick ball and, after a good burst up the middle from Baxter Wilson, the Cambridge defence was stretched out wide and Nick Hankin - not for the first time - was able to use his pace to get through the first line of defence and give Dan Elsom a run to the line out wide. Tom Banks' conversion attempt went wide, but Stortford had a crucial lead. The home side enjoyed much the better of the remainder of the half, but a combination of aggressive Cambridge defence and one or two crucial handling errors prevented any further score.
The visitors started the second half brightly and, as they threatened the Stortford line for the first time in the game, they forced a penalty for not releasing at a tackle right under the opposition posts. Penfold duly reduced the gap to 2 points but his side still seemed reluctant to play other than a tight game, leaving Stortford, once again to take the attacking initiative. As they did so, the side seemed to gain increasing confidence and, despite the visitors' continued determination and aggression in defence, they came close to scoring a second try after 54 minutes, after a number of phases took them almost to the try line, but the threat was ended with a knock-on. With Dec Caulfield prominent at the heart of a battling pack, Manu Vunipola showing great maturity and control at flyhalf and Hankin and both wingers, Chris Smith and Joss Linney often threatening, Stortford continued to batter at the unrelenting Cambridge defensive wall, but it took another 15 minutes before the crucial second try was scored. This was triggered by some clever interplay in midfield between Tom McCrone and Steve Ball, who combined to give Hankin some rare space, allowing the fullback to slice through a gap in the defence at speed and find Joss Linney with a fast, flat pass, allowing the winger to go round his opposite number and run in to touch down under the posts. Banks duly converted to stretch the lead to 12 points and the game was closed out by two further penalties to the scrumhalf after 75 and 78 minutes, as the game opened up a little, with Cambridge now needing to abandon their restrictive and restricted game plan. The visitors did, finally show a glimpse of their attacking potential and, with time running out, it took a tremendous cover tackle from Hankin on winger, Kwaku Asiedu to prevent a try and seal a huge 24-6 home victory.
Our thanks go to Matchday sponsors, Mantle Business Centres for their support of this big game and to Man of the Match sponsors, BIT Solutions. The award went to Dec Caulfield for his unstinting efforts in repeatedly making hard yards through the heart of the strong Cambridge defence.