A strong second half performance sees high flying Hinckley hit top spot
By Richard Stanley
Stourbridge were unable to capitalise on hard earned territory and possession after losing valuable ball in this hard fought game which was, perhaps, closer than the scoreline suggests!
Stour’s plans to celebrate the official opening of the AGP were spoilt somewhat by a Hinckley side whose clinical finishing proved too much for their hosts.
A bumper crowd turned out to see former Leicester, England and British Lions hooker, Peter Wheeler cut the ceremonial ribbon and, as if by magic, the morning drizzle stopped, the sun came out and the scene was set for this top of the table clash with both sides on 49 points but with the visitors edging the stats with ten wins to Stour’s nine.
Indeed, very little separated the teams for the first 39 minutes with both sides having to defend furiously during some prolonged spells of attack. However, nerves were showing, basic errors crept in and Stour failed to take advantage of territorial gains following breaks by Afeafe Haisila, Sam Pailor and Joe Heatley. Early scrum advantage gave them the chance for points but a penalty kick was too ambitious and the ball sailed over the corner flag and Stourbridge retreated to where the kick was taken from.
It was then Hinckley’s turn for self-denial after winning a very kickable penalty for a high tackle with 17minutes gone. Instead of opting for 3 points, they chose the lineout and maul but the ball was sent out forward and the pressure was off the hosts line with just 5 metres and an overlap begging. However, this seemed to be a turning point in the game and Hinckley spent the next 10 minutes camped inside the opposition half and most of that time inside the “22”. When Stour finally broke out play was halted after a knock on, Hinckley were awarded a scrum penalty but were thwarted by some excellent work from Nick Murphy who was having the game of his life in both set piece and open play. He managed to “hold up” the maul and the forwards repaid the favour by winning a scrum penalty of their own. The move failed to yield any points but shortly after Stour were unlucky not to score when Joe Heatley charged down a clearance kick only for the ball to end up over the Dead Ball Line.
Hinckley’s 22-metre drop out was rewarded by a penalty after a Stour player was caught “holding on” in the tackle and the penalty lineout from just 5 metres produced a strong driving maul where Man of the Match No 8 Alex Salt add try number 11 to his season’s tally and Hinckley No 9 Joseph Glover slotted over a tricky conversion from out left. There was just time for a restart but within seconds, referee Phil Davies blew up for half time. At 0-7 it was very much “game on” but the main talk amongst the 475 strong crowd must have centred on the number of errors that both sides had made.
Stourbridge kicked off second half proceedings and the lively Stourbridge No 10, Robbie Forbes made a promising break followed by territorial advantage through the boot of Joe Heatley. However, further attacking play broke down after the ball was lost in contact (something that was to repeat itself on a number of other occasions) but Stour took heart when the Hinckley tight head was shown a yellow card for bringing down an attacking maul on 49 minutes. Unfortunately, the lineout throw was not straight and the visitors breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Stourbridge spent a good 15 minutes of the second half, inside their opposition’s half and, overall, came away empty handed after 8 visits into the “22”. Their last real opportunity for points came with 58 minutes on the clock after promising breaks by Haisila and Forbes, the latter winning a penalty some 40 metres out but the kick fell wide and it was the visitors’ turn to dominate proceedings.
The next score came after Stour lost the ball in contact around the half way line. Hinckley attacked from the base of a scrum and the forwards then set up a powerful maul that sent second row Ben Marshall crashing over and Glover converting with 15 minutes remaining. Bizarrely, referee Davies awarded a penalty kick off to Stourbridge after altercations between various players but the hosts failed to capitalise on any territorial advantage. They even managed to lose the ball from a quick tap penalty only to be met by a morale sapping counter attack.
The floodgates started to creak open and now playing with ascendant confidence the Hinckley forwards and backs combined in a number of phases. Perhaps the most outrageous of these was a clever back pass through the legs finding Sam Driver who had come in from the left wing to score under the posts and still with a 3/1 overlap outside of him. Glover’s conversion made it 0-21 and Hinckley players now had a bonus point win firmly in their sights and with 5 minutes left to play.
They only had to wait 4 minutes before replacement centre George Marsden got his name on the score sheet squeezing through a wall of players. Full back Callum Dacey took over the kicking duties to take the unanswered points tally to 28. It was Dacey who added yet another seven when he swooped on a ball lost by a Stourbridge player, again in contact, and scampered over for a relatively simple conversion.
This was the cue for Phil Davies to blow his whistle for the final time, much to the relief of a tired and battle worn home side who now have to regroup before next week’s long trip to second place Tynedale.
If Stourbridge are to turn possession into points they must look eradicate the errors made on Saturday. With seventeen more games to play, the league lead is likely to change hands a number of times and recent campaigns have taught us that games can be won or lost on the odd bounce of a ball or one wrong decision by players or officials.
We also need to recognise the contribution made by Charlie Jeavons-Fellows who returns home to Australia for Christmas, a well earned break travelling and university life! Thanks Charlie, good luck, best wishes and bon voyage.