Scrum dominance powers Stroud to victory.
By joshua stratton
This was an excellent all-round performance from Stroud. All the players should take credit for their hard work and controlled play they exhibited in tough conditions.
Stroud looked to put the disappointing loss to Yatton behind them as they made the short trip to Gloucester to face Old Richians. As well as looking to move on from last week, Stroud were determined to avenge a narrow loss at Fromehall back in October. Despite the recent rain, the pitch looked in decent condition as Stroud ran out with a much changed backline. Dan Gordon had moved to #9 while Carl Ranscombe formed a new centre partnership with Harry Foote. Tom Flanagan was brought in on the right wing while Sam Hester returned at Full Back after injury.
Richians kicked off into a strengthening breeze but a secure take from Josh Stratton set up the first of a number of forward drives. The back row of Mark Phillips, Phil Fruin and Phil Middlemiss were instantly in the action carrying strongly. The slippery conditions and solid defence from Richians combined to force an early turnover. Richians showed early invention by spreading play wider; first of all towards the Stroud right flank, where solid work from Flanagan and Hester halted the attack, then pushing play back to the other flank. The Richians#10 made a half break and produced an excellent offload to allow the support runner a clear run to the line. The conversion gave Richians a 7-0 lead within the first 5 minutes.
This slow start however produced an immediate positive response. A low driven kickoff from Gordon was well followed up by Jack Young, whose tackle forced a knock on and gave Stroud their first possession in opposition territory. The first scrummage showed signs of things to come as the Stroud pack were able to gain the ascendancy immediately. A strong scrum allowed Middlemiss to pick and drive from the base. Further strong carries from Tom Warner and Matt Hunt took Stroud into the Richians 22. Although the conditions were far more conducive to the driving forward game, half backs Gordon and Jake Marsh did vary play and take the option to feed Harry Foote, who as ever led by example and carried powerfully setting up a ruck just short of the Richians line. Short range drives from Dan Smith, Stratton and Phillips almost broke through however the ball was held up over the line. Stroud however were not to be denied. A massive surge from the pack drove Richians back at the subsequent scrum, allowing Middlemiss to pick and drive over by the posts. Hester converted to level the scores at 7-7.
A confident take from Phillips again gave Stroud a solid base to launch their forward drives. Ben Stephens again showed great willingness to carry the ball in addition to his as ever excellent work in the lineout. Ball retention was a problem in these early stages and once again the ball was turned over giving Richians another attacking platform. Over eagerness around the fringes resulted in a penalty, which was kicked by Richians 10-7.
Stroud looked as though they’d backed themselves into a corner as Richians continue to defy the conditions and show quality handling and imagination to spread the ball wide. A deft offload and an untimely slip in the Stroud defence allowed the Richians winger a clear run to the posts. Try converted 17-7.
A 10 point deficit after 20 minutes was certainly not the start Stroud were looking for but this team now have a steely core and were not going to be backed into that corner for long. Pressure from the kick off again forced a turnover and gave Stroud both possession and territory. The forwards resumed their powerful carries and the pace and intensity of play was notably stepped up. The pack were superbly marshalled by Gordon, who was varying play between close contact drives from Warner, Stratton and Smith to hitting Stephens and Middlemiss on slightly wider lines. This pressure soon told as Richians were caught offside. Hester confidently kicked the three points 17-10.
If the first 20 minutes belonged to Richians then the second quarter was dominated by Stroud. Rob Higgins replaced Fruin, who was forced off with a hand injury and as well as adding another option at the lineout was soon carrying strongly. Stroud despite the conditions did attempt to hit the wider channels and quick hands from Gordon and Marsh released Ranscombe. With a side step and burst of acceleration he appeared to have broken the defensive line only to be felled by a last ditch tap tackle. Smith picked the ball on the run to carry on the forward momentum. Richians were on the back foot and transgressed at the breakdown, conceding a penalty. Despite worsening underfoot conditions, Hester again calmly kicked the points 17-13.
The momentum had now definitely shifted in Stroud’s favour. Middlemiss and Stratton continued to make the hard yards whilst dynamic work from Hunt and Young, working in from his wing, soon forced Richians back into their 22. Further carries from Higgins, Phillips and Foote took Stroud to the line but again the ball was adjudged to be held up. With the final play of the half another powerful surge at the scrum meant Middlemiss could once again touch down close to the posts. Hester converted to put Stroud in front for the first time 17-20.
Half Time Old Richians 1st XV 17Stroud 1st XV 20
Stroud continued their dominance in the opening phases of the second half with great work at the breakdown from Foote and Phillips forcing a turnover. Controlling the ball was now the objective for Stroud and initially patience was shown as Warner, Stratton and Smith pounded away at the Richians defence. Stroud went through a number of phases until a forced pass went to ground allowing Richians to clear. A mix up in defence allowed Richians to regather the clearing kick and put away their winger to run in under the posts. Try Converted 24-20. Despite playing the first 10 minutes of the half in Richians territory, Stroud now found themselves behind once again.
Richians #10 used the breeze well to pin Stroud back into their 22 however an exemplary catch and drive from a Stephens take relieved the pressure. Stroud showed their intentions by keeping the ball in hand with Gordon once again bossing the forwards and them in turn responding with a series of controlled drives. Gordon showed his vision by varying play and feeding Flanagan to make a break up the blindside wing. Cutting back in field, he gave an excellent target for the forwards to clear out. Marsh hit Foote on the crash ball to once again take play deep into the Richians 22. Further drives from Higgins and Phillips continued the forward push. A final surge by Hunt looked as though it had led to a score but once again the call was held up. By this time, Stroud were exerting so much dominance in the scrum the outcome was almost inevitable. With Charlie Foote, replacing Stephens in the Second Row, the pack once again got the initial drive. A number of penalties were conceded by Richians but the option of 3 points was shunned to set up yet more opportunity for the Stroud pack to up the ante. Another drive this time allowed Gordon to pick up at the base and crash over out wide for Stroud to re take the lead. 24-25
A lineout from Richians kickoff was secured by Middlemiss . More expansive play from the Stroud backs allowed Hester to free Young on the left wing for a rare run. Strong recycling ensured continuity for Stroud and the opportunity to work their way back into the Richians 22. Higgins and Stratton were prominent driving around the fringes and were ably supported by Foote and Smith. With Gordon continuing to call the shots, the forwards kept up the pressure until Richians were forced into conceding another penalty. This time the points were taken as Hester extended the lead from just to the right of the posts. 24-28
With 12 minutes to go, Stroud were in control but by no means were home and dry. Richians had brought Terry Fanolua on at #10 and his distribution brought the Richians forwards more into the game. Despite a concerted spell of possession, Richians were unable to break the Stroud defensive line and strong work from Harry Foote, Marsh and Higgins regularly stopped Richians runners from making any substantial gains in ground. The concession of a penalty for offside from a kick looked to have put Stroud under real pressure but a great lineout steal allowed Stroud to regather possession and begin driving away from their line. Stratton, Warner and Charlie Foote consistently drove forward, retaining possession. In the final 2 minutes, every forward picked, drove, cleared out with just as much desire as they’d shown throughout the previous 78 minutes. One final secure take from Stephens (back on to replace Phillips) allowed Gordon to kick the ball into touch to end the game.
Full Time Old Richians 1st XV 24Stroud 1stXV 28
This was an excellent all-round performance from Stroud. All the players should take credit for their hard work and controlled play they exhibited in tough conditions. Special praise however should be saved for the forwards who dominated not just in the set piece but also in the loose. This is another step on the ladder for this Stroud team that have put behind them their unconvincing start to the season to become a resilient, cohesive unit that is capable of playing rugby suited to any conditions.
The season continues with league leaders visiting Fromehall next Saturday but this performance should give the team immense confidence for the challenges ahead.