Caldy 14 Bishop's Stortford 1st XV 16
By John Allanson
Stortford show great character to snatch crucial win at the death for their7th victory out of the last 8 outings.
Stortford dominated ball and territory in the first half and, but for tremendous defence by the home side and a creaking scrum, would surely have been out of sight by the break. This area of vulnerability proved to be crucial, as the visitors failed repeatedly to capitalise on short range scrums won by constant pressure and some powerful running by forwards and backs. Eventually, though, all the pressure told and a great burst through the middle of a lineout by Matt Tomlinson took his side deep into the home red zone. In doing so, he showed great presence of mind, as Caldy stood off, looking for a penalty just outside their 22. Two penalties in quick succession were forced and the second brought a yellow card for No 6, David Morgan Jones. A quick tap and Steve Ball was in close support to spin over the line under the posts, giving Tom Banks an easy conversion. With Caldy tackling as if their lives depended on it – and the consensus among supporters of both sides after the game was that, as far as league survival is concerned, this may indeed have been the case – Stortford players were repeatedly stopped within feet of the Caldy line and, with first half time running out, the visitors had to settle for 3 points from Banks’ boot, after Reuben Bird-Tulloch had once again almost made the line.
Although the margin might well have been considerably wider, a 10 point lead at the break with the wind in the second period slightly favouring Stortford, the position seemed fairly comfortable. This was even more true, when Banks slotted a penalty after 7 minutes – having just missed another only a minute earlier. This followed a couple of good tactical kicks and the visitors seemed well in control. They proceeded, though to incur the displeasure of the referee at a series of breakdowns and the powerful left boot of Caldy fullback, Michael Barlow repeatedly drove his side well into Stortford territory. The home side now strung together numerous phases of hard-running possession and, for the first time in the game, put Stortford’s defence under real pressure. Eventually the breakthrough came from a five metre scrum. With Stortford’s back row all tied in, in the effort to hold the dominant Caldy eight, there was no cover as the home flyhalf, Rhys Hayes, at first receiver, stepped out of an unusually loose tackle and dived over under the posts. Jones duly converted and Caldy were suddenly in the game. It was another breakdown penalty 6 minutes later that again proved crucial, taking the home side to just outside the Stortford 22. A tremendous, prolonged driving maul from the resultant lineout took Caldy well into the 22 and another couple of strong phases saw Tomlinson yellow-carded for collapsing a further maul, as it drove towards the try line. Caldy, not surprisingly opted for a scrum, with Stortford’s big lock off the field and duly drove over the line for a try under the posts. The conversion took the home team into a one point lead with little more than 10 minutes left. To Stortford’s credit, they did not panic and they pressed into the home half with more fluent back play. A breakdown decision finally went their way after around five minutes, but Banks’ shot at goal from a tricky angle was pulled well wide. Undaunted the visitors continued to press and were extremely unlucky, when Joss Linney finally escaped the close attentions of his opposite number and was was felled by a no-arms tackle, as he ran at the line. Had the referee not just called the game to a halt for attention to be given to an injured Caldy player, there would surely have been a yellow card and, conceivably a penalty try. Stortford continued to press, but were turned over and Caldy proceeded to run down the clock, going through a series of forward drives. Unwisely, though, they moved infield, as they did so and, when a strong Andy Christie tackle jolted the ball loose, an instinctive high tackle, as Stortford drove again at the line produced a penalty just to the left of the posts. As Stortford’s many travelling supporters held their breath, Banks stepped up and coolly planted the kick firmly between the posts. With no time left, Stortford had snatched the win right at the death and who could argue, given the many games pre-Christmas that had been lost in similar circumstances, that this wasn’t their due. Harsh in the extreme on a battling – and embattled – Caldy side, but they were gracious enough after the game to concede that, over the piece, the better side had won.
Baxter Wilson was voted man of the match by the hosts for a non-stop performance in attack and defence, the latter being highlighted by a superb flying tackle into the midriff of a Caldy player forcing a knock-on, as they tried to run out of defence during Stortford’s dominant first half.