An entertaining and fitting end to the season secures top five finish for the hosts.
Mixed feelings on Saturday saw Stourbridge see off Otley in a game preceded by an emotional tribute to Tom Mole, the Under 14s star who sadly died on Thursday following a short illness.
Parents, family and team mates alike were all keen to show that the rugby family at Stourton Park is still as strong as ever when they turned up to pay fitting tribute to a young man whose short life had such an impact on all who knew him. A minute’s applause to celebrate his life gave the players all the encouragement they needed to make this a fitting end to an excellent season as Stour secure a top five spot.
11th placed Otley were never going to be an easy fixture but, in all fairness, they made the long trip with a somewhat different side to that we encountered back on 2nd September (where have those last 8 months gone?). Then, Stour did win by 21-42 in a nine-try game but now with a no lose/no lose fixture the supporters were expecting an open and entertaining fixture on our AGP. They were not to be disappointed although neither Stour, nor the referee helped to enhance the entertainment factor in a game punctuated by stoppages for numerous penalty infringements. Indeed, the hosts played 30 minutes of rugby with just 14 men on the pitch but we must recognise the sprit and defensive qualities of a side that have been through many similar encounters!
In cold but relatively calm conditions, it was Stour who kicked off proceedings and dominated the first few minutes in counter attack play thanks to Niall Gibbons and Joe Heatley. Their efforts were rewarded with a scrum penalty that was sent to touch for an attacking lineout. Front ball to Nick Murphy was enough to feed DoR player of the season, Jack Lea, who crashed over for the first try of the game.
This was followed just six minutes later from fellow front row Chad Thorne. Thanks to sustained pressure in attack, a combination of play between forwards and backs gave Stour 2 successive penalties Nick Murphy gave the final inside pass to Thorne and it was 10 – 0 on 10 minutes.
The remainder of the first half remained scoreless but some strong attacks by both sides were thwarted either by good defence or some last gasp errors. Even when Nick Murphy saw the first Yellow Card of the day, Nigel Mukarati and Callum Bowden held Otley at bay including some strong groundwork. In all fairness to Murphy there is still some confusion as to the merits of the card but no damage was done. Indeed, Stour were unlucky not score another well-worked try through Phil Bowden as he outsprinted several defenders. Unable to keep up, the officials appeared to be uncertain or unsighted in the grounding of the ball but youngster, Bowden had set his stall to show how quick he could be, given a bit of space.
The resulting scrum gave Stour an excellent opportunity to score again but they were penalised in the ensuing ruck and Otley set off in a promising counter attack. Having gained a good 50 metres they forced themselves down the right wing. A chip ahead looked almost certain to pay off but Full Back Joe Heatley had tracked across and his cleverly timed gather cut off the momentum and he took the ball into touch. Stour won the opposition lineout ball, cleared and 36 minutes on the clock but 40 on the referee’s watch saw the end of an interesting half!
Otley kicked off the second period and, almost immediately, Stour won a penalty that Rod Petty kicked to the 22 m line. Unfortunately, lineout ball was not straight and Otley capitalised on territory in spite of not finding touch from a penalty kick! On 47 minutes it was George Morgan’s turn to spend 10 minutes in the bin after a ruck infringement and Otley wasted no time in taking advantage. The attacking penalty lineout was secured; catch and drive found Otley Hooker Ben Steele crashing over from short-range to notch up their first and only score.
The visitors did show spirit and some sharp moves in attack but never really threatened the home line. Indeed, the Otley 12 lost possession on the half way line that gave Dan Rundle the chance to break free. His well-timed pass to speedster Phil Bowden was only going one way and the youngster sprinted some 35 metres to touch down near enough to the posts for Petty to add the extras.
This was soon followed by Joe Heatley pouncing on a scrappy ball at the rear of an Otley scrum. His break made some good “yardage” but the breakdown gave possession to the visitors. Otley attacked out left with No 11 Cameron Burnhill running clear but not expecting to confront the solid frame of front row and former No 8, Mark George! The rest is history but, perhaps, we witnessed one of the season’s best tackles from a standing start.
After 60 minutes, Otley were awarded a scrum on the half way line. No 8 Nigel Mukarati who popped the ball to Hal Riley had gathered loose ball. His feed to Rob Connolly was perfect and the veteran Leinster star found the pace and experience to out run the Otley defenders. Fellow near pensioner Petty added the conversion and Stour were now nineteen points clear at 24 – 5.
Otley were still showing some good spirit in attacking play having much of the advantage over the next few phases. However, Stour were able to batter themselves out of their own “22” finished off by Joe Heatley and Hal Riley, respectively, getting inside the visitors’ half. On 73 minutes, Stourbridge won a penalty that quick thinking Petty tapped and caught the defence off guard. His offload to replacement Flanker Sam Montieri was all of 22 m out and Sam galloped away to score giving Petty an easy conversion for the final score of the game.
After an excellent beginning to the season, Stourbridge failed to capitalise on a 9 game winning streak and maximum points start, having amassed 42 Tries and 323 points! However, as we all know, the season is long and arduous testing fitness, resilience and resources. Any benefit we had from our local Premiership loan players was soon removed but we thank those guys for their input over the brief spell allowed. Good luck in the future and you will always be welcomed back at Stourton Park!
Readers should also note that this game was without the likes of Sam Pailor, Chris Scott and Josh Trinham.
Fortunately, Neil Mitchell has been able to secure some valuable reinforcements including Niall Gibbons, Robbie Forbes, Rob Connolly, Sam Montieri, Hal Riley, Callum Bowden and Philip Bowden (no relation).
On a serious note, we do hear that very lucrative terms have been offered to one early season loan player, by a local club and who are a league below Stourbridge. If we are to be serious contenders in this competitive league structure, we need to be able to offer far more than current resources allow.
Post match revelations include many new contracts signed by existing players and we look forward to an exciting campaign ahead. The leagues highest scorer, Rickie Aley (343 points) has also committed to our cause and we look forward to meeting up with you all in September.
In the meantime, have a great summer and spend or earn Brownie points wisely for they are hard earned and easily lost!
Selection of pics from Andy Cook and Jeff Bowden