Stratford 27 Whitchurch 8
STRATFORD’S good form of the new year continued with a well deserved Midland One West victory in a sparkling game at Pearcecroft on Saturday in which both teams played a full part.
Stratford got off to a dream start after forcing a turnover straight from the kick off.
Scrum-half Drew Pritchard kicked ahead, centre Elliot Smith harried the visitors’ full back and kicked ahead again for 17-year-old wing Dan Hope, making his first start for the first XV, to score with his first touch of the ball.
Captain and fly-half Simon Brain added the conversion. Unfortunately, Whitchurch reciprocated four minutes later when a cross kick was fumbled and taken on for an unconverted try.
A run by flanker Marko Mladenovic led to Hope being forced into touch just short of the line, while full back Jo Cook fielded a long kick and with wing Dan Whitby set off on a run downfield, ending with Cook being stopped just short of the line.
The Black and Whites maintained the pressure and after 15 minutes increased their lead with a try by hooker Mark Hibberd from a blindside move.
From the restart the ball was run back by the home threequarters with centre Rich Pepperell being prominent.
A feature of Stratford’s play was good aggressive defence by forwards and backs alike, stopping Whitchurch from crossing the gain line.
Stratford’s next attack ended when Brain’s cross kick resulted in a despairing but try saving kick to touch by the opposition full back.
Hope fielded a penalty and linked with Cook for a run to halfway and later saved a certain Whitchurch try from a kick ahead.
Cook twice turned defence into attack fielding high balls, first linking with Whitby, No 8 Rob Young and prop Matt Cook, while the second was a solo effort with both attacks stopped just short of the line.
Stratford maintained the pressure, notably by a 15 metre forward dive, and continued attacks on the line with prop Simon Baldwyn, Mladenovic and second rows Ant Avery and Ed Walton prominent.
Stratford increased their advantage when flanker Chris Cathcart took a quick tap penalty and made good ground before feeding Young who set up Pritchard to touch down.
The visitors reduced the arrears with a penalty but Stratford responded with a move involving Pritchard, Cathcart, Young and Whitby and runs by Jo Cook and Pritchard, the latter filching ball from a Whitchurch scrum.
The important bonus point fourth try came from a lineout take by Avery leading to a forward drive from which Cathcart forced his way over.
Brain superbly converted from the touchline before completing the scoring in the closing stages with a long range penalty.
Whitchurch pressed hard in stoppage time but were repulsed by robust defence.
It was a valuable win and an entertaining game for the spectators, with solid forward play and crisp interpassing by backs and forwards alike.
Two gratifying features were the increasing confidence and maturity shown by young players such as Jo Cook, Dan Whitby and Chris Cathcart, and the fact that no less than ten of the team had progressed through Stratford Colts.
The Dick Workman man of the match trophy was awarded to Marko Mladenovic.
The 3rd XV match was unfortunately called off at the last minute by opponents Barkers Butts.
The twice postponed match against Worcester Wanderers will be played at Pearcecroft this Saturday (2pm). It follows the vice-president’s buffet and the England versus Wales match will be shown on the big screen in the clubhouse following the game.
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