SRFC remain in 12th place and gain a vital Bonus Point as the first half of the season draws to a close!
By Richard Stanley
Winning the second half by two tries to one not enough to make up for first half errors by a team affected by injuries and absences
Stour should be reflecting on a first half performance where they conceded 17 points in as many minutes through a series of unforced errors. They gifted a five-point win to the hosts who lie in 15th place with just four wins to their name. They did, however, win the second half by fourteen points to seven and secure a valuable Bonus Point, in the process!
The visitors were down to a bare minimum of twenty players after their main clubs recalled Mike Penn and Gareth Simpson. James Seabrook, George Morgan and Mark Harrison were still carrying injuries. Sam Wilkes was unavailable due to family commitments and Adam Shaw pulled out early on Saturday morning. Three of the Stourbridge bench had an average age of nearly 40 including Damian Webb who agreed to play at the last minute, driving up to Macclesfield as he was too late to catch the coach! Fortunately, club stalwart, Mark George, was able to turn out for his 200th appearance, catching up with Adam Sturdy and hotly pursued by Jack Lea!
Playing conditions could only be described as “atrocious” in biting and blustery winds carrying large amounts of near freezing rain. Underfoot, the pitch was firm if somewhat patchy and uneven but it was cold hands and insensitive fingers that did most damage, even after 3 minutes when Stour knocked on just 30 metres from their own line. The 8/9 move saw former Sale man, Sam Stelmaszek break through some weak tackling, scoring under the posts for Fly Half and Captain Tom Morton to convert. The same move nearly gave Macc their second try just moments later but defence was a bit more resolute. However, Stour did concede a penalty which Morton slotted over making it 10-0 with ten minutes gone.
In all fairness to the visitors, they played some good rugby and, surprisingly looked to dominate both territory and possession. Unfortunately, any opportunities created were negated by the errors count including one knock on when attacking from just 5 metres out. Another similar position was turned around when a Stourbridge player came flying over the top of a ruck allowing Macc to clear down field. Joe Heatley and Reece Beddows (in his first game back from injury) were able to test the home defence on several occasions but without troubling the scorer.
The next score came on 17 minutes after Stourbridge lost their own scrum when Macc lineout ball was not thrown in straight. This allowed Stelmaszek to break ahead, saved only by a great Hal Riley cover tackle. However, Macc were on the front ball and the defence was not set before Israel International 2nd Row Tom Burden burst through giving Morton another simple conversion. This was followed by another passage of play with Stour on the ascendancy and Rickie Aley was able to add 3 points after a high tackle.
The hosts then managed to regroup when Stourbridge went down to 14 players after Hal Riley was show a Yellow Card following an alleged tackle ‘above the horizontal’. Notwithstanding, the visitors gathered momentum and hit back with a Nigel Mukarati Try on 33 minutes but with the last play of the half, Tom Morton slotted a penalty making it 20-3 after Stourbridge conceded a scrum penalty.
In spite of knocking the ball on from the restart, Stourbridge then sustained a period of pressure that saw them camp inside Macc’s ’22 winning a series of momentum and scrum penalties. The final one was taken as a quick tap ending in the arms of Stefan Thorp who crashed over by the posts and a simple opportunity for Rickie Aley to convert and a more respectable 20-15 score line. However, five minutes later Stourbridge lost their own throw-in that was seized upon with alacrity by Hooker Sam Moss for the hosts only Try of the half and Tom Morton’s last successful kick.
Stourbridge then butchered two opportunities after winning two penalties on the hosts’ 5-metre line but then knocking the ball on. However, 5 minutes later Macclesfield were down to 14 players and it didn’t take long before Jack Lea scored his 10th Try of the season in a fashion as described previously in these reports. Rickie Aley converted what were to be the last points of the game but still with 13 minutes left to play! Unfortunately for Stour, the Macclesfield Yellow Card was given to a front row player meaning that the game went to uncontested scrums. This negated the pressure that Stourbridge forwards were exerting on their opposite numbers.
Macclesfield then played an intelligent game keeping as much close possession as they could and denying the ball to visiting hands. When Stourbridge did regain the impetus it was too little, too late and once again they were not clinical enough to capitalize on territorial advantage.
Whilst Stour’s league position remains unchanged, they are now just 3 points clear of Leicester Lions and nine points away from the relegation zone. However, a home win next week against Sheffield Tigers could see them leapfrog their opponents in to 9th place so maximum support and plenty of noise is vital for this festive match!
Match report by Richard Stanley, pics by Ceri Davies