A Tense Game In The Mud
By joshua stratton
Small margin throughout the game
With six wins from their previous eight matches, Stroud hosted Yatton with their confidence buoyed by recent results and determination to avenge the defeat in the away fixture back in September. The Fromehall pitch was at the best heavy and constant drizzle was only going to deteriorate the playing conditions throughout the afternoon.
Yatton kicked off with a low, bobbling kick that would become a feature of the restarts on a difficult afternoon for handling. Phil Fruin however gathered confidently and set the tone for the opening salvos with a strong drive. Great clearout work from Matt Hunt and Dan Smith ensured secure ball and set Stroud up for a concerted spell of controlled possession. The pack, well marshalled by scrum half Joe Hoyle worked in unison, powerfully carrying and recycling ball. Josh Stratton, Mark Phillips and Tom Warner constantly made ground as Stroud showed patience against a well organised Yatton defence to force their way into opposition territory.
Stroud showed that despite the conditions, their ambition was not limited to forward drives with centres Harry Foote and Sam Leworthy carrying well from Jake Marsh’s distribution and committing multiple defenders. This period of play showed the pace and intensity that Stroud can play at and eventually forced a penalty from a Yatton infringement at the breakdown. A pin-point kick from Dan Gordon pushed Yatton back to their own 5m line.
The first of many secure takes at the front of the lineout from Ben Stephens followed but as the subsequent drive surged towards the line, Stroud were pulled back for a technical offence in the maul. Pressure was maintained as Fruin and Phil Middlemiss combined to turn over Yatton ball to give Stroud an attacking platform once again. Further momentum was gained by strong surges from Stratton, Phillips and Hunt before Hoyle used the quick ball well to spread play to Marsh, who found Gordon cutting an excellent line and exhibit pace and power to round his opposite number to open the scoring out wide. 5-0
Stroud were instantly back on the attack with Fruin again collecting a potentially difficult kick off. Carries from Stratton, Smith and Stephens, whose work in the loose was just as noticeable as his lineout skills, drove play into Yatton territory. The play was varied by Hoyle, who hit Leworthy cutting a strong inside line. Breaking through a number of tackles, quick ball was won with the back row of Phillips, Fruin and Middlemiss clearing out with aplomb. Hoyle went blind and found Gordon, who hit Jack Young cutting back in from the wing. His powerful, elusive running took him into the 22, where Yatton infringed at the breakdown. Despite the worsening conditions, Peter Sykes kept his feet and slotted the penalty to extend the lead. 8-0
Stroud continued to press with Hoyle, Gordon and finally Sykes kicking intelligently and pinning Yatton back into their own territory. Momentum however shifted after a Stroud knock on awarded Yatton their first concerted period of possession despite the game being 20 minutes old. Yatton soon showed that they were not going to lie down and showed invention with ball in hand. Yatton began to move the ball wider earlier in the phases and were almost rewarded with a try. Only great covering work from Sykes prevented a score whilst scavenging work from Phillips and Fruin forced a turnover and allowed Gordon to clear the lines.
Yatton remained on the offensive for the final 10 minutes of the half but Stroud’s defence was resolute with Foote, Fruin and Phillips leading a high press that gave the attack very little room for manoeuvre. One phase did however result in a line break from the Yatton #7, who broke clear but was hauled down from behind by Foote when appearing to be clear. Despite hardly gaining possession for 20 minutes, Stroud held firm and stifled Yatton’s attacks to take a well deserved lead into Half Time.
Half Time Stroud 1st XV 8Yatton 1st XV 0
The second half started with Yatton continuing to dominate possession and spreading play wide despite the worsening conditions. Solid defence from Young and Sykes on the outside and Foote and Leworthy in the centres kept Yatton at bay. Unfortunately, this huge defensive effort was not without cost as captain Foote had to leave the field through injury and was replaced by Lex Brooks.
On the rare occasions Stroud gained possession in this period, Stratton, Smith, Warner and Middlemiss continued to carry strongly away from their own line. This allowed Hoyle to put in an excellent box kick that was well followed up by Leworthy, who forced the Yatton #11 into touch. More excellent lineout ball courtesy of the Hunt-Stephens combination allowed Marsh to once again free Leworthy to surge into Yatton territory. Unfortunately, on this occasion the clear out was not as effective and Stroud were penalised. Yatton showed further ambition by keeping ball in hand and spread the play wide, where their right winger found enough space to put in an excellent kick towards the Stroud line. Great covering back by Sykes again prevented a score but he was adjudged to have carried the ball back over his line thus giving Yatton the scrum. A powerful surge from the Yatton pack allowed their #8 to pick and drive over the line for a score, which was converted. 8-7
Rob Higgins replaced Mark Phillips in the back row and he made his presence felt almost immediately with a number of solid tackles alongside Stephens and Fruin, who were constantly pressing the Yatton ball carriers. Yatton were still having the lion’s share of possession but great work at the breakdown from Higgins earned Stroud a penalty and a chance to gain territory. Gordon once again found touch and this time Middlemiss provided secure ball from Hunt’s throw. From midfield Leworthy once again provided the impetus from a short ball from Marsh. Tight driving play from Stratton, Smith and Warner continued the momentum and forced Yatton into an infringement at the breakdown. Sykes confidently kicked the penalty to extend Stroud’s lead. 11-7
With 10 minutes to go, the game was still in the balance and Yatton were certainly not lying down. A solid take from Stratton at the kick off set up drives by Fruin and Charlie Foote, who had replaced Smith. Yatton however managed to generate a turnover and made instant use of it. The ball was spread wide right and a rare lapse in the Stroud defence allowed the right winger to break and step inside before speeding in under the posts to give Yatton the lead for the first time in the game. Try Converted. 11-14
With timing running out but a solid platform from scrum and lineout, Stroud were far from beaten. A steal at the line out from Higgins regained possession and Warner, Stratton and Middlemiss continued to drive the game forward. Half chances were created, with first Gordon being called back after an adjudged forward pass and then Sykes being forced out in the corner after quick hands from Hoyle and Gordon. This pressure eventually led to a penalty and an opportunity to level the scores. Unfortunately, the kick from the heaviest part of the pitch just drifted wide and Stroud remained in arrears. The final 2 minutes were frantic with Stroud continuing to pressurise the Yatton line. Yattton subdued attack after attack and eventually appeared to have turned the ball over but were adjudged to have taken the ball over their line. A 5m scrum gave Stroud one final chance and Middlemiss drove towards the line. Last ditch defending stopped his run however the ball was kept alive and moved quickly to the wing. Agonisingly, the final ball was just out of reach and the chance had gone. As the ball went into touch, the referee blew the final whistle but with passions and adrenaline still running high on both sides an unfortunate skirmish broke out in the corner, which resulted in a red card for a Yatton player after the final whistle.
Full Time Stroud 1st XV 11Yatton 1st XV 14
This was indeed an unfortunate way to end a highly competitive and entertaining game of rugby played in tough conditions. Although Stroud’s winning run has come to an end, a huge number of positives should be taken. The attitude and commitment of all 18 players was exemplary and the cohesive nature of the forward play was extremely impressive. Stroud played the majority of this game without the ball and the solid, structured defensive work of both forwards and backs should be duly noted. The intensity of this performance should keep Stroud on a positive track as they approach their next games against local rivals Old Richians and Coney Hill.
Next Fixture v Old Richians (Away) Saturday 27th January Kick off 1415.