Second Half Comeback Falls Just Short
By joshua stratton
Stroud will indeed secure a well-deserved 4th place finish in Western Counties North.
Stroud were back at Fromehall after 2 successful weeks on the road. A warm, dry afternoon and firm surface provided fine conditions for Stroud’s final scheduled home fixture of the season. A much changed squad looked to cement 4th place in Western Counties North against their closest challengers.
1 Dan Smith 2 Phil Fruin 3 Tom Warner 4 Josh Stratton 5 Lee Marshall 6 Kurtis Herbert 7 Tom Flanagan 8 Rob Higgins 9 Joe Ashenford 10 Dan Gordon 11 Jordan Phipps 12 Sam Leworthy 13 Luke Peer 14 Peter Sykes 15 Sam Hester 16 Charlie Foote 17 Regan Herbert 18 Lex Brookes
A secure take from the kick-off by Kurtis Herbert, starting out of position on the flank, set up Stroud for some early attacking phases. Strong carries from Fruin and Warner gave the attack momentum before Leworthy typically proved difficult to pull down and took play up towards halfway. Avonmouth’s defence was solid and forced Gordon to kick for territory. The Avonmouth back 3 were keen to run the ball back and pressed wide. Solid defensive work from Sykes and Hester repelled the initial attack before the first of a number of low chop tackles from Flanagan allowed Herbert to secure a turnover. Ashenford set up forward drives from Smith and Higgins before a pick and go from Stratton took 3 tacklers to drag him down. With momentum building Gordon found Peer, who was able to collect and break up the middle. As the covering defenders closed in, a well-timed off load found Phipps, who surged in on the left. Herbert converted 7-0.
This unfortunately was the only real Stroud highlight of the first half with the remaining 30 minutes being dominated by Avonmouth. Although the scrummage was solid throughout, the line-out suffered on occasions through a lack of options with Higgins being the only recognised jumper. Avonmouth attacked from a stolen line-out and from second phase exploited a number of missed tackles to make massive ground down the right. Phipps finally halted the attack with a great covering tackle but Avonmouth were able to exploit numbers and moved the ball back to the left, where efficient handling allowed their winger to cross in the corner. 7-5.
Gaps in the Stroud defence were exploited again soon after by the Avonmouth flanker, who made 40m before play was again spread wider. An outside break by their centre took play to within 5m of the line before being dragged down by a combination of Phipps and Hester. With the Stroud defence stretched, the next phase allowed the Avonmouth fly-half to step back inside and cross close to the posts. Try converted. 7-12.
Two more Avonmouth tries followed before half time, both showed excellent hands from the opposition. The first again came through their centre making good ground before offloading for their prop to cross before their left winger was again the beneficiary of an overlap to score out wide. Both tries were well converted and extended the lead at half-time to 7-26.
Foote and Regan Herbert entered the fray with Kurtis Herbert returning to his more accustomed centre position.
The second half started with more Avonmouth possession but the Stroud defence galvanised themselves and were much more secure. Flanagan was regularly chopping down players, whilst Leworthy and both the Herbert brothers made a number of dominant hits. Avonmouth were able to secure the ball however and eventually force a penalty when Stroud infringed at the breakdown. A successful kick for goal kept the scoreboard ticking over. 7-29.
With Avonmouth appearing to be in total control, Stroud needed something to ignite them. As the Avonmouth fly-half kicked for territory, Hester collected but instead of kicking for touch beat the onrushing chaser before showing pace to break up the left hand side before linking with the supporting Phipps. Although this attack came to nothing with a handling error coughing up possession, Stroud seemed to gain a renewed sense of belief. Soon after Gordon’s pass put Kurtis Herbert into space and he made 50m before being dragged down deep in the 22. Carries by Leworthy and Smith took play within metres and looked to give Stroud an inevitable score. An Avonmouth infringement on their own line however resulted in the referee awarding a penalty try. 14-29.
Stroud were now making good ground close to the rucks with Foote, Stratton and Warner carrying well. With momentum regained, Regan Herbert went on the first of a number of destructive runs, bulldozing his way through multiple defenders. With the defence split, Ashenford, as alert as ever, accelerated through a gap close to the ruck. Despite being dragged down, the ball was secured and Gordon found Leworthy on a powerful line and he burst through before widening his run to appear to cross in the corner. He was however adjudged to have been held up over the line.
Gordon went wide from the ensuing scrum but secure Avonmouth defence held firm. Stroud showed patience and pick and drives from Stratton and Marshall continued the impetus before Ashenford and Gordon combined to release Regan Herbert, who powered over from 10m. 19-29.
Avonmouth applied pressure from the kick-off and soon forced a penalty, which again they opted to kick for goal. Another successful kick would ultimately prove crucial. 19-32.
This time it was Stroud’s turn to pressurise the kick-off and despite securing possession, Avonmouth were penalised when another fine tackle from Flanagan allowed Regan Herbert to get over the ball. Hester found touch 5m out before a well-executed catch and drive from Smith’s pinpoint throw saw Higgins touch down in the corner. 24-32.
Despite the arrears, Stroud certainly sensed there was a way back into this game. Carries from Foote and Warner provided go forward before once again Gordon put Kurtis Herbert into space. Breaking through, he kicked ahead and accelerated past the covering defence – a difficult bouncing ball appeared to be knocked up and re-gathered but another contentious decision ruled a knock-on and another try was chalked off.
The front row of Foote, Smith and Warner led the Stroud scrum to really pressurise the Avonmouth pack and they were indeed unlucky not to earn Stroud a penalty with a massive shove on the opposition 5m line. Avonmouth however were able to scramble the ball clear but clean line-out possession allowed Gordon to spread play wide left, where Phipps proved typically elusive and made good ground despite being surrounded by defenders. Switching play back to the right, Gordon released Leworthy on an excellent line, a carbon copy of earlier in the half. This time his outside run took him beyond the last defender and he ran in in the corner. 29-32.
With time running out, Stroud through everything at Avonmouth. Smith, leading by example, took a tap penalty deep in his own half and set off on a powerful surge. Stratton and Higgins pushed on towards halfway before Ashenford switched play and found Gordon making an excellent outside break – unfortunately the final pass to the supporting Hester didn’t go to hand. Stroud continued to battle to the end but eventually their momentum was only stopped by the final whistle.
Full TimeStroud 1st XV 29Avonmouth OB 32
This was indeed a game of two halves and showed the resilience of the whole squad to reverse the momentum of a game that at Half Time appeared to be heading for a substantial Stroud defeat. Determination and patience allowed Stroud to get 2 match points out of the game and the players should be proud of their efforts and another 5 minutes could well have seen a victory secured. If the attacking potential coupled with the improved defensive work of the second half can be repeated over the final two games – Stroud will indeed secure a well-deserved 4th place finish in Western Counties North.
Next Fixture : Saturday 13th April v Barton Hill (Away) Kick-off 1500.