Newport Salop 55 Stratford 0
Midlands One West
STRATFORD produced a valiant performance against the runaway leaders on Saturday but, despite their best endeavours, were always playing second fiddle to the champions-elect.
The visitors had a much-depleted squad from which to select the team and this difficult situation was nearly made far worse when Will Fletcher decided to kidnap Dan Whitby and head off to Newport in South Wales. Fortunately, the mistake was realised on the M5 and they made it to the correct Newport in Shropshire in time.
The key changes forced on the team by missing players were Pritchard at scrum half, not Drew but No 8 stalwart Dave, skipper Jack Young moved to full back, back row Jimmy Richardson returning from injury into the centres and last, but by no means least, coach Marcus Cook returning from retirement in at No 10.
The day was cold but the sunshine bright when Newport kicked-off the match. There was hesitation by the Stratford players and Marcus Cook’s first touch was a fumble and a scrum to Newport.
Stratford were forced to absorb a lot of pressure in the next five minutes, not helped by a referee who had a different interpretation of the laws of the game.
This was to be a recurring feature of the match and eventually Newport managed to cross the line near the posts and with the conversion the score was 7-0.
Stratford’s defence was determined but the Newport pack proved to be dominant in the scrum. So, when Stratford forced knock-ons, there was no advantage in the subsequent set piece.
Even so it was 20 minutes into the half before Newport scored again. A well executed backs move from a ruck showed a glimpse of Newport’s superiority and a try in the left corner took the score to 12-0.
Newport’s next score was similar despite a period of dogged defence by Stratford and another try in the left corner made it 17-0.
Stratford’s lineout was working well and a promising move started with clean ball off the top from Tom Mylott. Unfortunately the cunning move in the backs went somewhat astray when a pop-pass went directly to a Newport play for a jog-in bonus point try and a 24-0 lead.
Stratford continued to battle and there were certainly weaknesses in the Newport play and Stratford got very close towards the end of the half, winning a series of penalties close in. Unfortunately the threat ended when an ambitious pass out wide sailed over the winger’s head and into touch and the first half ended soon afterwards.
Stratford continued to defend stoutly until ten minutes into the second when the Newport backs broke through the Stratford lines for a score between the posts. The conversion was straightforward and the scoreline 31-0.
Ten minutes later Stratford won a penalty and Pritchard quite legitimately tried to wrestle the ball from the Newport player, who was preventing Stratford from taking it quickly. Ash Bonnar stepped in as is traditional for a lock when a scrum half, albeit Pritchard, needs protection.
Bonnar took a punch to the face for his efforts and showed remarkable restraint by merely holding the player at arm’s length. The referee issued the Newport player with just a yellow card although red was definitely an option.
He then also gave Pritchard and Bonnar yellows as well, much to the bemusement of the players, coaches and spectators, all of whom seem to have had a different interpretation of the laws.
During the next ten minutes Newport took full advantage of the extra player. A scrum almost inevitably gave Newport a penalty and from the resulting lineout in the right-hand corner a catch and drive resulted in yet another try.
Still with the man advantage, Newport kicked through to the corner and the chase was on. The Stratford defender got there first though and this was confirmed by the touch judge when asked by the referee. This made his decision to award Newport the try particularly baffling.
So the score was now 41-0 and both sides were back to a full complement of 15. Stratford continued to battle but it was hard for heads not to drop a little and, with Newport rampant, the next two tries were incidental and the final score was 55-0.
Although a Stratford win was always very unlikely with such a depleted squad, the scoreline was overly flattering to Newport. What could have been a very good game of rugby was somewhat marred by the unevenness of the sides and the standard of officiating which, at this level, needed to be better for the sake of both teams.
Saturday is a rest day for the mid-table firsts, whose next game is on January 31 at home to Silhillians.