This was a long awaited fixture following two previous postponements for frozen and water logged pitches but glorious weather meant this meaningless match helped fuel the supply of entertainment. With only pride at stake both sides wanted to play ‘running rugby’ and it was clear from the start that the ball would spend more time in hands than in the air!
Both teams were also lacking full strength but the visitors small squad meant that special dispensation was required to shore up the front row and Ryan Smeilus came on loan from Bridgnorth. Both Tom Mitchell and Tim Daly were recalled from the Lions. This game was the only National League fixture played over the Bank Holiday weekend. Family and holiday commitments meant that a further 3 key players were unavailable! George Morgan played out of position at Openside Flanker and Stour could only manage to field 4 replacements including two very senior members in the form of Rod Petty and Damian Webb.
Indeed, both were involved early on in the game after Reece Beddows pulled up after just 7 minutes with his recurring hamstring injury and Damian came on for a spell whilst Llyr Griffiths received treatment for a nasty shoulder injury with less than half an hour on the clock. Mark George had to leave play after just 15 minutes, turning his ankle and playing no further part.
Stour kicked off the match and soon found themselves under attack, conceding an early penalty in front of the posts. However, the ‘dale quick tap penalty was ripped and cleared after some good defensive work and Stour then won the resulting lineout. The ball was recycled and George Morgan sent a lovely floating pass out right to Mark Harrison, inside Stour’s own half. The speedster flew down the wing beating several players to score out wide and with just 8 minutes on the clock and very much against the run of play.
The next 15 minutes remained scoreless with both sides having opportunities. Stourbridge had their chances in open field with a nice passage of play that followed Sam Wilkes pouncing on a loose ball. Mark Harrison and Dan Rundle combined well but the latter run out of space. Wharfedale had plenty of chances with some good offloading, running the ball at every opportunity. Stour’s defence held firm, frustrating their hosts to a point where they opted for a penalty kick between the posts to add something to the scoreboard. Fly half Jack Blakeney-Edwards slotted two over after 24 minutes and32 minutes then converting a nice try by Full Back Louis Brown just 1 minute later. Stour had restarted the game and ‘dale returned play with a high kick. As most schoolboys are taught, you do not allow the ball to bounce but, on Saturday, this skill seemed to elude Stourbridge. A grateful Brown gathered the ball and raced to the try line with not a Stourbridge player in sight!
This galvanized the visitors into action who, straight from the kick off found themselves involved in two scrums on the ‘dale 5m line. The second of these created a loose ball that was gathered by out of position George Morgan. He pirouetted around some outstretched arms to scamper round and touch down. Chris Scott added the extras making the score 13-12. The next score came on the stroke of half time when Stourbridge were awarded a penalty on their own ‘22’. The ball was moved up field and a risky long pass was thrown to the left. This produced a massive crowd appeal for being forward and even the most ardent of Stourbridge supporters would not have disagreed! However referee Alan Chandrachud and his assistants made the first in a string of extraordinary decisions and allowed play to continue. Needing no second chances, Dan Rundle opened his legs and sped around the defensive line, scoring under the posts for Chris Scott to add his conversion and a half time scoreline of 13-19.
Wharfedale restarted the game 10 minutes later after a well-earned half time break. Following some great play by Rian Hamilton and Louis Brown they made serious inroads into Stour’s space and then spent the next 10 minutes or so camped on the Stourbridge line. After more than a dozen phases of play they were held up over Stour’s try line but were awarded a penalty try after the visitors conceded a number of scrum infringements. The score was now 20-19 and it could have been more had not Mark Harrison hauled down Hamilton after a sublime cross-field kick by Blakeney-Edwards.
Dan Rundle then scored his 27th try of the season to secure a (4 try) Bonus point for the visitors after being released by a Joe Heatley pass but this was the last time in the afternoon that the ‘Visitors’ score board changed numbers. Centre Will Edwards scored ‘dale’s 3rd try when Stour’s loose chip kick was gathered by Brown whose strong running had troubled the visitors all afternoon. The conversion was good and Wharfedale retook the lead, which they maintained for the duration.
Further sustained pressure led to ‘dale’s final (Bonus point) try on 67 minutes with replacement scrumhalf Will Lawn darting over from close range. Blakeney-Edwards finished the game with two penalty kicks on 71 minutes and 80 minutes, the first after Joe Heatley had seen ‘Yellow’ for an alleged high tackle. However, the hosts did not have it all their own way other than benefitting from some extraordinary decision making (or lack thereof) by the match officials. In one instance Dan Rundle had raced clear and chipped ahead for space but was hauled down, clearly late. This was followed by another incident when he was pushed off the ball whilst chasing a kick ahead. Earlier, a ruck had formed and Stourbridge were about to secure possession when a prone Wharfedale player’s hand was seen to assist the ball in favour of the hosts. Both referee and AR failed to spot the infringement and play was allowed to continue.
All in all, this was a good performance from the Stourbridge players and the final scoreline was not a fair or representative reflection of the game, in general. Both teams scored 4 tries apiece but it was 12 penalty points from the boot of Jack Blakeney-Edwards that made the difference.
Our final game of the season, next week, is away at Leicester Lions and, barring a major defeat, Stour should remain in 11th place given they are 5 points clear of Lions with a +13 to – 10 p’ts score difference.