Lions v Stoke
By Simon Lawlor
LIONS' COMEBACK OF COMEBACKS
Seeing is believing but many Lions supporters at the home match with Stoke will be checking their glasses, contact lenses and eyes after this match. 14 points down with mere minutes to go, all over, seemingly, bar the shouting and the home side came back to win 25-24, gain maximum bonus points and maintain their position in 7th place. Breathless stuff.
With late absences and against a powerful Stoke pack determined not to go down by 40 points as they did last season, the Lions struggled after a bright opening where Ben Tibbetts, injured later in the first half, went over from a ruck to gain a 5-0 lead.
Stoke, however, had other ideas. Their powerful forwards took control and, after several scrums close to the Stour line they went over for a converted try for a 7-5 lead after 5 minutes. Despite creaking in the forwards the game was even for the next 20 minutes, with the Lions’ speed and creativity counter-acting the away outfits power.
On 35 minutes a lineout sparked a series of Lions attacks deep into the Stoke 22, finally leaving Doolittle to dive over for a try wide on the right wing. Back came Stoke with another forward inspired try right on half time. 12-10 to Stoke at half-time and all to play for.
The second half began disastrously for the Lions with a further try for Stoke taking them 7 points clear. For the next 30 minutes the away side controlled the game and a further try with 10 minutes to go saw them ease out to 24-10. Game over it seemed, with the home side struggling to get a losing bonus point and the home fans resigned to a defeat.
However, it is to the great credit of all of the players now on the pitch that they re-grouped and took the game to Stoke. With the prompting of Rod Petty at 10 and powerful attacking running, with Scotty Langdon prominent, the Lions forced the away side to kill the ball and give penalties away at the ruck. An unconverted try by Will Tibbetts on 40 minutes, seemingly in a lost cause, gave the Lions hope, especially when a Stoke player was binned for persistent infringing. With all of the stoppages there were still 6 minutes left to play.
The Lions went back straight from the restart and Elliot Hopkin, having a fine match with Sam Wilson in midfield, went over wide on the right. There was now only 4 points in it and another sin-binning left Stoke down to 13 men and wide open to the rejuvenated home attacks. With only a couple of minutes left cue pandemonium when the Lions attacked again, and an overlap saw Tildesley gallop over in the corner. 25-24, 5 tries and maximum points. A minute to go and Stoke created a series of powerful charges to the Lions’ 22. The referee blew his whistle, fans held their breath at the prospect of a penalty but no, to huge sighs of relief, it was full time.
A great team and squad performance although special mention must be made of Rod Petty rolling back the years with a composed display at fly-half, of Joe Wilson who came in from the wing to have a fine match at scrum-half and Will Tibbetts at 15, who ran, tackled, caught as though he had been playing there for years. DoR Tibbo looked like he played the entire match himself at the end but, no matter, a win…and what a win!
Match report by Jon Dews, pics by Sian Davies