Season opens with a five point win for Stour against a stubborn Lions team that challenged all aspects of the home side's game!
By Richard Stanley
Twenty five points for Aley in his debut game and some superb individual performances in both attack and defence ensure Stour get off to a solid start.
This season’s opener lived up to expectations when two strong teams met with Stour taking the honours earlier this year but a resolute Lions side keen on vengeance. Conditions were perfect for open, running rugby. Warm sunshine, high cirrostratus clouds and a slight breeze but strong enough to assist each team – Lions in the first half and Stour in the second. The crowd was a little disappointing given all this but, hopefully, numbers will increase as the year progresses.
Leicester folk would also have an interest in the host’s squad with centre Luke Veebel playing against former team mates and the half back pairing of Adam Shaw and Rickie Aley who came to Stourton Park via South Leicester. Our referee for the day was a youthful looking Charles Gayter who impressed DoR Neil Mitchell when he took charge of our last encounter at Luctonians. Stour’s selection options had been reduced with front row absences in the form of Jack Spencer and Sam Wilkes meaning Mark George needed to step in at hooker should first choice Jack Lea have to leave the field. There was a strong possibility of this as “Bowling Ball” Lea was carrying a toe wound. Second row Liam Mather was also absent and a debut start by wingman Mark Harrison was in question until minutes before kick off as he had been stricken by a stomach bug for most of the week.
It was Lions who kicked off the first half and, straight away, both sides made it very clear that this was to be a fast and physical game where attack and counter play were to feature heavily, right up to the final whistle. It was club stalwart Nigel Mukarati who produced the first break after 5 minutes, when he locked on to a Lions player giving no alternative but for the ref to award a penalty for holding on. Debutante Rickie Aley had his first chance at Stourton Park points but, 40 m out and against the wind, his effort was unrewarded. However, it wasn’t long before he had another chance, from virtually the same spot, after Lions conceded two quick penalties. Lesson learnt, this time, he drilled a low ball straight through the uprights and it was 3-0 with 8 minutes gone. Lions hit back immediately and, playing knock on advantage, countered through an aggressive run by second row Sumpter who was to prove a handful all game! The ball was recycled and sent wide to their danger man, Devon Constant who, with half an overlap crashed over in the far left corner. The conversion attempt shaved the outside of the near post but Lions were ahead. They were only going to lead twice, throughout the 80 minutes but this, and the final score were no reflection on how they played and the questions they posed of Stour’s set piece play and defensive needs.
Back to the action and wasted no time in returning the favour. A clearance kick found Joe Heatley who countered and won a penalty. Subsequent play let loose his fellow back line and a sublime, looping pass by Aley found Nigel Mukarati “goal hanging” on the left wing. Still with work to do he mirrored Constant’s earlier efforts and crashed over from some 15 m out Rickie Aley’s conversion was short but Stour were now 8-5 ahead with 14 minutes gone. Lions struck back immediately through a Harry Key penalty from 45 metres. However, they started to get on the wrong side of Charles Gayther after accumulating a number of penalties and he had a serious word with their skipper on the 20-minute mark. Rickie Aley sent the penalty kick to the visitors’ 22 metre line but Stour’s lineout throw was not straight. However, it took just 3 minutes for them to regain the impetus after a blistering shove from the front eight. This time the lineout was taken cleanly and carried forward by Nick Murphy then Jack Lea. Enter Luke Veebel who took a crash pass from 5 metres out and touched down to the right of the posts. However, he was denied his first Stourton Park points when the referee signalled a Penalty Try and sent Key to the bin for a ten-minute rest and a real chance for the hosts to push on. However, resolute defence and some scrappy play meant the scorer was untroubled for nearly ten minutes. Breaks by Joe Heatley and Luke Veebel plus a tap penalty form Lions scrum half raised the noise level but each move was thwarted by some strong tackling until Rickie Aley landed a 25 m penalty on 33 minutes.
Lions returned the kick off deep into the Stour 22 m area but instead of clearing their lines, Stour opted to run the ball out TWICE, the second attempt seeing a chip and chase effort charged down by Leicester’s No 6 Godefroy who scored by the posts. In the absence of Key, Lions No 9 and England Counties Henry Clements, slotted over the conversion giving his side some hope of a come back. This was not to last long as Stourbridge probed the 22 metre line in return and yet more indiscipline from Lions gave Aley a 41st minute penalty shot to leave a half time score of 21-15 on the board.
Stourbridge got the second half started with a kick off and were now playing with wind advantage. However, they spent much of the first 10 minutes conceding penalties for a series of ‘holding on’, ‘not releasing’ and ‘high tackles’. Lions were unlucky not to score after another No 9 quick tap penalty, the move halted by a knock on. Stourbridge missed a penalty chance of their own when Aley’s 45 m shot went wide. Another opportunity went begging when Joe Heatley countered from the restart. His clever chip ahead bounced agonisingly high and some neat footballing skills by Stef Thorp were just out of reach of the following pack!
On 51 minutes, Lions took advantage of a Stour lineout error and some slick passing ended in the hands of live wire Henry Clement who dotted down a richly deserved 5 points and Harry Key added the extras for Leicester Lions second and last lead of 21-22. Enter Sam Montieri who had demonstrated his defensive capabilities but now showed how dangerous he could be in attack. Excellent work by Nigel Mukarati drove the ball forward and it was recycled to new skipper Llyr Griffiths. His clever inside pop pass to Montieri wrong footed the opposition and a jinking run was enough for Sam Montieri to score his first of the season. Aley stretched the lead by another 2 points but there was still no real space whereby Stour could start to breathe more easily. Mark Harrison finally gave up his brave struggle, which saw George Morgan come on at centre and Luke Veebel move to the wing.
Lions threatened once again but Jack Lea combined with Dan Rundle and the touchline to defeat an ominous attack but lost another lineout ball. However, when in possession of the ball and in open play, Stour demonstrated how dangerous they can be from anywhere on the field. Stef Thorp combined well with Llyr Griffiths who put a toenail over the touchline, otherwise he was clear to score. Joe Heatley, Dan Rundle and George Morgan all made some good yards. Stour also seemed intent on offering chances to their visitors after conceding penalties for high tackles, not rolling away and scrum infringements. Yet again Clement caught Stour off guard and won a penalty from being tackled too high. Fortunately, Key’s huge kick to touch went out beyond the corner flag and Stour could breathe a sigh of relief by virtue of a 22 m drop out.
On 65 minutes Rickie Aley launched a high cross-field kick towards Luke Veebel who out jumped the defence and managed to tap the ball down to be gathered by the ever mobile Stef Thorp who offloaded to Aley who, in turn, scampered over for his first five pointer. The conversion (by far the most difficult of the afternoon) sailed over and Stourbridge were now a comfortable 35-22 clear. However, another high tackle by Stourbridge gave Key an easy three points just 23 metres out and straight in front of the posts. This also led to the noisiest part of the game with vocal intervention from both away and home supporters. The scoreboard, now operated by our very own Francis Trinham, only ticked over by two points. Nobody was sure if it was lack of familiarity, fear of modern electronics, fatigue or dear old Fra that was to blame! A post match conversation did suggest that Francis was simply testing if the supporters were paying attention!
Returning to the on pitch action, it was the home side that seemed to dominate proceedings for the remainder of the game. Aley was unlucky with a tactical kick that was inches past the corner flag and a drop goal attempt was also wide of the mark. The resulting 22 m drop out was sent deep into Stour territory but returned by a Joe Heatley George Morgan combination. Again, the touchline came into play but Lions throw in went too long and was gathered by the ever-present Sam Montieri. His pass was given to stand in Fly Half Chris Scott who sent the ball out right into the welcoming arms of Rickie Aley and a 79th minute try which, again he converted form wide out.
Un named players in this commentary need not be disappointed. All round team play means a solid start to the campaign. Rest assured, the whole squad should see themselves as winners and will be mentioned in dispatches over the coming weeks!
Today’s league table shows 4 x 40+ point games but, on points difference, Stourbridge are in second place behind South Leicester. Next week we travel to Dore Moor to meet Sheffield Tigers whilst Leicester Lions host South Leicester in what should be a gruelling encounter. It is still too early to tell who may be in the mix for a promotion spot and, 29 games from the finish line, is never a time to place any firm bets.
However, rest assured that Stourbridge will play their part in maintaining this league as the country’s number one source to watch exciting, enjoyable and unpredictable sport!