Four Tries and three cards not enough to give a win but Stour battle hard to gain two Bonus Points and consolidate position as this tough season nears the half way mark!
Tries by Jack Lea, Mark George Mark Harrison and Joe Heatley are not enough!
Last Saturday, we welcomed back old friends from Preston in a long-standing fixture separated by many seasons and a few relegation and promotion years. This time, PGH held the advantage as they sat 3 places above Stour, in 9th slot but only by virtue of ‘Bonus Point’ differences. They won convincingly last week against league leaders Hull Ionians by 29-7 so were a side full of confidence.
Some interesting personnel matters to mention, here insofar as the two British Police locks now went head to head in the guise of Llyr Griffiths and Chris Roddy with Roddy returning to his old haunts at Stourton Park. Reece Beddows, Callum Morris, George Morgan and Hal Riley are still recovering from injury and Jack Spencer, along with Niall Gibbons had been put on loan to the Lions who faced local rivals DK.
This gave opportunities to loan players Scrum Half Gareth Simpson and Full Back Mike Penn to start in this important fixture, which was the penultimate game before we turned around for the second half of the season. Jack Lea was intent on heading the try count just four behind Henri Packard and Matt Riley so the afternoon was all set for a bumper game, which could go either way.
After some heavy rain, conditions were good but with a definite wind advantage that favoured the visitors in the 1st half. It took some 13 minutes to see a first score but the opening salvo was very much in favour of Stour with Mike Penn working well with Mark Harrison and Gareth Simpson getting in to the action supported well by James Seabrook. Unfortunately, the score went to Grasshoppers after a couple of penalties were conceded by both sides but with PGH Centre Sam Stott scoring close enough for Fly Half Tom Davidson to add the extras.
The hosts hit back immediately after an error by PGH when a long clearance kick went beyond the dead ball line. After a scrum and penalty, Jack “Bowling Ball” Lea took a quick tap penalty for his 9th Try of the season and Rickie Aley leveled the score with his conversion.
After 20 minutes, it was clear that Preston were matching the Stourbridge forwards in set piece scrums and gaining advantages in stealing ball from the numerous rucks and mauls. This was to continue throughout the game, assisted by a number of Stour errors. Indeed, it was some weak defending that saw ex Sedgley Park No 8, Matt Lamprey, run half the length of the pitch to score a (Davidson) converted Try and at a time when ‘Hoppers were down to 14 men!
Mark George made amends on 34 minutes after some enterprising play by the hosts seeing Hoppers caught offside and a second Yellow card, this time against 2nd Row Luke Proctor. His strong carry enabled an Aley conversion for 14-14 but Preston had the last in spite of a great break by Gareth Simpson. In spite of territorial advantage, Stour lost two consecutive lineouts that cost them some 75 metres of territory with ball sent to the left seeing fleet footed wing man Conor Truman score the 5th Try of the afternoon and Tom Davidson convert his third attempt in a row.
The hosts hit back with a 43rd minute penalty and appeared to turn things around with a series of attacking plays courtesy of Nigel Mukarati and a lovely break by James Seabrook. However, Stour failed to chase an excellent Gareth Simpson box kick, fielded on half way and countered by No 13 Matt Crow who cut through the defence, scoring on 50 minutes but with the conversion missed. The score was now 17-26 and Stour needed all their resolve to make a come back if they were to stand any chance of some points.
Another counter by Mike Penn seemed to galvanize the home side, only thwarted by a knock on. However, some slick interpassing soon followed and a 70-metre move saw Mark Harrison score another fine Try which Rickie Aley was unable to convert. 5 minutes later the hosts added another 7 points when Mike Penn broke cover, running some 50 metres with Joe Heatley in support. Heatley’s dummy pass was enough to make way for a well-worked try and conversion putting Stourbridge into the lead, for the first time, at 29-26.
What followed was the turning point as PGH racked up 12 points in 3 minutes after a scrum free kick and penalty. The latter saw No 9 James Gough scamper over for another Tom Davidson conversion. Stour restarted play but, straight from the kick off loose ball fell at the feet of speedster Tyler Spence who out stripped the defence in a turn of speed that made Usain Bolt look sluggish! With the score now at 29-38 Stour needed to look for some reward for their efforts and the first chance came with 5 minutes remaining and a Red Card given to Hoppers first Try scorer, Sam Stott, for a dangerous high tackle.
Rickie Aley missed the kick after his effort hit the right post but he made no mistake, four minutes later with an identical shot. The restart could have been more promising but knock on advantage saw Preston Grasshoppers hoof the ball into touch.
Next week we travel to Macclesfield in an important game for both sides. Stour could go to 9th place as Wharfedale are away to Huddersfield who have an excellent home record. Sheffield plays third place Hinckley.
Whatever the results, Stour now have every chance to regroup and look forward to a new year with some exciting new players available and the return of early season stars.