Penalties ensure no reward for a hugely committed performance.
The strength of the opposition coupled with the driving rain and temperatures barely above freezing, ensured this was always going to be a test of attrition and character as well as skill.
On a day more suited to December than October, Stroud made the short trip to Redwell Road to face an in form Matson side, currently second in the league. The strength of the opposition coupled with the driving rain and temperatures barely above freezing, ensured this was always going to be a test of attrition and character as well as skill.
Stroud: 1 Dan Smith 2 Phil Fruin 3 Josh Stratton 4 Phil Middlemiss 5 Ben Stephens 6 Bob Reid 7 Tom Flanagan 8 Regan Herbert 9 Joe Hoyle 10 Jake Marsh 11 Sam Leworthy 12 Harry Foote(Captain) 13 Kurtis Herbert 14 Pete Sykes 15 Jordan Phipps 16 Sam Davies 17 Ed King 18 Lex Brookes.
Stroud started with the benefit of the slope but were playing into the wind. The kick-off was contested by Leworthy but eventually secured by Matson. Early defence around the ruck area was secure with Fruin and Reid making good early hits. Matson looked to make early use of the wind kicking long but Phipps was up to the task securing the ball well – returning some strongly and finding touch safely with others. Strong early carries from Middlemiss and Regan Herbert allowed Hoyle to relieve early pressure but Matson were in control of territory and possession in the first quarter.
This pressure told when Stroud were penalised at the breakdown and Matson kicked for the corner. A catch and drive from the back of their line-out was initially repelled by the Stroud pack but the Matson pack regrouped and drove over in the corner. A touchline conversion followed. 7-0.
More pressure from Leworthy and Stephens at the kick-off allowed Stroud to regain possession and push into the Matson half for the first time. Carries from Stratton and Reid continued the momentum before an untimely loss of control at the breakdown allowed Matson to clear. Phipps again returned strongly and excellent work at the ruck secured possession and set up carries from Middlemiss and Regan Herbert before Hoyle and Marsh spread play wider for the first time. Leworthy made good ground up the right wing before being hauled down. Further carries from, Fruin and Foote showed Stroud were now getting into their stride and playing through multiple phases. Matson as ever were always competitive at the breakdown and forced a penalty, which they kicked to touch. The line-out went astray and loose ball was well secured by Foote before Regan Herbert once again made great yardage taking play outside of the 22. With Hoyle controlling play, Stroud continued to drive up field with Fruin, Reid and Regan Herbert all carrying well and securing good ball. After a number of phases, Hoyle spotted the opportunity to go blind and quick hands from Marsh released Kurtis Herbert but he was forced out of play just as he was getting into his stride. Stroud were defending solidly, Middlemiss and Flanagan making their share of tackles close in whilst Foote and Kurtis Herbert provided a powerful presence in midfield in defence as well as attack. Excellent line speed enabled Foote to charge down a Matson kick and allow Sykes to compete for the loose ball. The ball was kicked through however Stroud were penalised as the referee deemed that ball was still in the ruck. Despite being behind on the scoreboard, Stroud were now certainly well in this game and were gaining in confidence all the time.
Matson however were themselves secure in possession and forced another penalty after a number or forward drives. In control of the ball within the Stroud half, the Matson Fly-Half switched play back to the blind side where their full back broke the defensive line to offload to their winger to score. Try converted 14-0.
Stroud’s set piece looked solid with Middlemiss and Stephens securing their own ball at the line-out courtesy of accurate throwing from Smith. The scrummage allowed Stroud to show some real dominance with the front row of Smith, Fruin and Stratton setting the platform for the Stroud pack to drive the Matson eight back 10m before winning a well-deserved penalty. With possession now more evenly balanced the Stroud backs showed inventiveness and accurate handling despite the conditions. Sykes coming into the line from the blind side wing freed Kurtis Herbert, who appeared to have broken the defensive line only to be felled by a last ditch tap tackle. Marsh fed Leworthy, who drove strongly infield towards the Matson 22. Further carries from Smith and Regan Herbert forced Matson back before a Hoyle snipe from the base looked to have crossed the Matson line but the referee had already blown for a Stroud penalty. Buoyed by their earlier dominance, Stroud opted for the scrummage and the front row again provided the platform for Regan Herbert to pick and surge over the line dragging multiple defenders with him. Kurtis Herbert converted from out wide. 14-7.
The next phase of play provided a contender for try of the season. Middlemiss expertly collected a low-driven kick-off and drove play forward. A quick clear-out allowed Hoyle to spread the play to Marsh, who freed Foote. With a powerful surge leaving two defenders in his wake, Foote broke the line and with great presence of mind found the ever-supporting Hoyle on the inside. An astute kick ahead was skilfully collected off the ground by Phipps, who in the same movement offloaded to Leworthy, who found Marsh running a close support line. Despite juggling the ball, Marsh regained control and was able to slide over the try line for an exceptional team try that defied the conditions. 14-12.
Davies replaced Fruin and was soon involved tackling well close to the ruck with Flanagan whilst Foote and Kurtis Herbert continued to show their strength holding up Matson runners in the wider channels.
Half Time Matson 14Stroud 12
From the kick off Stroud cleared through Marsh and an excellent follow up from Kurtis Herbert and Sykes forced the Matson winger into touch. King, making his long awaited first appearance had replaced Stephens and was soon winning ball at the front of the line-out and carrying strongly. Regan Herbert was continuing his wrecking ball impact on the game, regularly dragging numerous defenders along with him. His impact and carries from Stratton and Middlemiss ensured Stroud gained early possession in the second half. Marsh also looked to spread play wider when possible with Kurtis Herbert carrying well. Stroud were penalised at the breakdown in what would become an all too familiar situation in the second half.
This allowed Matson to regain possession and make ground deep into the Stroud 22. Their driving line-out again being particularly efficient set the platform for further close quarter drives. Stroud looked to have stolen the ball in the shadow of their own posts but were again somewhat harshly penalised. Matson kicked the penalty to extend the lead. 17-12.
Matson secured the possession and kicked well downfield. The resulting line-out was won cleanly with the Smith – Middlemiss combination continuing to operate effectively. Swift hands from Hoyle and Marsh fed Kurtis Herbert, who popped the ball up to his brother Regan - again surging through the Matson defensive line with Leworthy in support. Incredibly, the play was called back for a forward pass (video evidence suggests this was not the case!). From the scrum again the Stroud pack again seemed to have the edge but were penalised for dragging the scrum down despite moving forward. The Matson kicker again showed his accuracy from the tee and further extended the lead. 20-12.
Stroud were far from beaten and took play back into the Matson half. Further carries from King, Foote and both the Herbert brothers kept Stroud going forward. Unfortunately, an untimely knock-on coughed up possession and allowed Matson to clear. Stroud showed patience in building the phases with Stratton, Middlemiss, King and Reid prominent in their ball carrying. When the ball went wider, Sykes showed awareness regularly cutting back in from the wing, keeping the ball alive. One phase involved great hands from Foote and Phipps, who was heavily involved in linking play in many areas of the field as well as carrying well on many occasions. Again just as Regan Herbert and Foote had driven Stroud into promising field position, the referees whistle stopped the momentum.
Foote was forced from the field through injury and was replaced by Brookes, who slotted in at Full- back, with Leworthy pushing into the centre and Phipps moving out to the wing. Brookes soon produced a crucial tackle after Matson had regained a kick through.
Matson continued to enforce a degree of control through their driving line-out. Looking to close out the game, they focussed on close quarter carries. Davies and Flanagan continued to chop low to stem the Matson tide. Again Stroud looked to have caused disruption at the breakdown but were again penalised. The kick was successful. 23-12.
Stroud showed great heart in the final minutes with Middlemiss and Stratton continuing to carry well and Hoyle continuing to direct play. A searching kick from Kurtis Herbert gained ground but rolled out of play as Sykes chased it down. Phipps, Sykes and Hoyle exchanged passes in a narrow area, whilst Kurtis Herbert and Leworthy both took the ball on strongly.
The attritional nature of the game was now taking its toll on Stroud with Regan Herbert being the next to suffer. His bulldozing carries had had a huge impact on the game but injury forced him from the field to be replaced by Stephens. Smith was also forced from the field with his on-going rib injury proving too much to continue. Fruin returned to the field for the final minutes.
Full Time Matson 23Stroud 12
As the final whistle blew, Stroud were still giving it 100% and should feel extremely proud of the performance of all 18 players. A huge number of positives should be taken from the game and with a number of decisions appearing to go against them, Stroud were indeed unfortunate to walk away with no match points. Hopefully, with the injured players recovering and other personnel returning this positive performance will be carried through to next week when league leaders Midsomer Norton visit Fromehall.