Rotherham Titans 41 Bishop's Stortford First XV 35
By John Allanson
Stortford edged out at 5th placed Rotherham in an unusually loose game, with attacks dominating defences.
With Stortford struggling in the scrums and the Rotherham lineout misfiring, neither side could count on a consistent flow of possession, so this high-scoring game was decided by a series of decisive attacking moves, exploiting some patchy defending on both sides. The first breakthrough went Stortford's way after 7 minutes, with Chris Smith bursting over for a try, having cut in off his wing to take a short pass from Tom Banks in the midst of heavy forward traffic, following a good dash up the middle from Matt Tomlinson. The scrumhalf added the conversion, but the scores were levelled 9 minutes later, when Rotherham's tall left wing, Dan Leake leapt high to catch one of many excellent box kicks from scrumhalf, Alex Dolly, as Stortford's defenders, rooted to the ground, waited in vain for the ball to come to them. Taking the ball at full pace, the winger was able to reach the try line almost unopposed for the number 9 also to add the extras. Stortford struck back quickly, with Reuben Bird Tulloch cutting a great line to take the ball at full pace from Banks to burst clear and make the try-line out wide. The scrumhalf again converted from the touchline and it was the same player that added 7 points to his team's and his personal tally 14 minutes later, with a converted try, after he side-stepped the final defender to cross under the posts, after a Rotherham box kick bounced favourably for Nick Hankin, giving the fullback enough room to spot a gap in the home defence and burst through. The home side were not done, though and could easily have turned round all square from a period of sustained pressure, but had to settle for a single further converted try after 38 minutes, when an initial break by No 7, Zak Poole was taken on and finished off by his fellow forwards under the posts, following a couple of quick ruck balls. Dolly duly converted to leave Stortford with a 7 point lead at the break.
The visitors were caught cold after the restart, allowing Leake to repeat his running leap of the first half to take the opening dropout and burst through the heart of Stortford's stationary pack to feed hooker, Jack Bergmanas, who went over untouched under the posts, from where, Dolly inevitably levelled the scores. Worse was soon to come, though, as a badly missed tackle in midfield put the home side once more on the front foot and a good long pass found Leake in space on the outside for another easy try. Dolly again converted brilliantly from the touchline to take Rotherham into the lead for the first time. They retained the initiative from the restart, with Stortford struggling to lay their hands on the ball and the visitors were probably relieved, when the opposition settled for another 3 points from Dolly, after a penalty in front of the posts. Stortford finally began to gather themselves and fought their way slowly back into the game. It took a mistake from the home side, though to bring the next score, when a poor defensive kick after 25 minutes cannoned into another Rotherham player, producing a scrum to the visitors for accidental offside. Totally against the balance of previous scrums, the Stortford eight put on a great drive and were awarded a penalty try to narrow the deficit to 3 points. It was soon Stortford's turn, though to show generosity to the opposition, when a loose lobbed pass in midfield, as they threatened to run out of their own 22 was easily intercepted. Rotherham reacted quickly and it took two great, last-ditch tackles from Rob Duff to prevent another try being conceded. Unfortunately, after the second one, the winger couldn't resist the temptation to play the ball on the ground, knocking it into touch, for which he was yellow-carded. The home side remained on the front foot and soon scored yet another try out wide on the left, through second row, Dan Preston-Routledge, with Dolly, once again kicking a great conversion with 10 minutes left. Stortford hurled themselves back onto the attack, but were held out by some good home defence, until, with 2 or 3 minutes left, Bird-Tulloch found a weak spot out wide, as he wheeled right against the grain of play to round two potential tacklers to touch down. Not to be outdone by his fellow scrumhalf, Banks converted superbly from the touchline to bring his side once more within 3 points. Rotherham, though quickly regained the edge they had enjoyed for most of the half and were happy, shortly after to settle for another three points from the tee, after Stortford, were again penalised under their own posts, effectively conceding the second bonus point to the battling Stortford side.