Fromehall Park was bathed in Easter sunshine for the final game of the season. A baked hard pitch, more reminiscent of the African savannah, hosted a replayed game in which it appeared Stroud had much less to play for than the opposition, who needed a bonus point victory to ensure survival in the league. Stroud however were determined to finish the season on a high after a disappointing loss at Barton Hill last week.
1 Dan Smith (Capt) 2 Matt Hunt 3 Tom Warner 4 Josh Stratton 5 James Bashford 6 Ben Stephens 7 Regan Herbert 8 Rob Higgins 9 Joe Hoyle 10 Dan Gordon 11 Jordan Phipps 12 Sam Leworthy 13 Kurtis Herbert 14 Joe Ashenford 15 Sam Hester 16 Charlie Foote 17 Tom Flanagan 18 Oscar Adamson.
Stroud made an inauspicious start with the kick off not going 10m and handing the initial momentum to Chosen Hill. A well placed kick from their fly-half pinned Stroud straight back deep in their 22. Despite a solid early take from Stephens, Stroud coughed up possession and compounded the problem by conceding a penalty, which was kicked to touch. Although Stroud repelled the initial catch and drive, Chosen Hill were able to drive over from close range after a number of phases. Try Converted. 0-7.
Being points down after only 2 minutes was hardly the start Stroud were looking for and an immediate response was needed. A combative chase from Hunt and Stephens pressurised the receiver and although possession was secured solid tackles from Regan Herbert and Stratton forced a knock on and gave Stroud their first attacking opportunity. The front row of Smith, Hunt and Warner gave a powerful platform for Stroud to have the ascendancy in the scrummage all afternoon. Leworthy typically carried directly from the scrum before Higgins and Hunt carried into the 22 forcing Chosen Hill to concede a penalty. Kurtis Herbert calmly slotted Stroud’s first points of the afternoon.
A secure take at the kick off from Bashford enabled Stroud to begin to go through their attacking phases. Strong carries from Smith, Warner and Stratton took play up to halfway before Hoyle released the backs, Gordon’s miss pass found Hester wide and he was able to link well with Ashenford to make good ground up the right. Exhibiting excellent control, Hoyle switched play back to the left where first Stephens and then Higgins continued the momentum. Stretching play again Gordon released Kurtis Herbert, whose half break forced another penalty for a Chosen Hill infringement at the breakdown. Opting this time for touch, Hester kicked within 5m of the line. The Hunt – Stephens combination at the lineout secured ball before a well-executed catch and drive saw Regan Herbert power over from close range. Kurtis Herbert converted. 10-7.
Chosen Hill were soon back on the attack but powerful work from Smith and Stratton close to the ruck forced play back behind the advantage line. When Chosen Hill attacked wider, the inside three of Gordon, Leworthy and Kurtis Herbert also proved to be an impenetrable unit and forced a knock on as the centres pushed into the home 22. With a rock-solid scrum, Hoyle attacked right and with a show and go surged through a gap up to half way. With the path to Hester outside him blocked, he cleverly kicked ahead whilst Hester accelerated past two defenders to collect to ball and glide in by the posts. Kurtis Herbert converted. 17-7.
With the scrum particularly solid and Hunt regularly finding Stephens, Bashford and Higgins at the lineout, Stroud were now dominating possession. Looking to attack again from deep within their own half Gordon fed Leworthy, who with a typically powerful hand-off broke the first tackle before releasing Phipps on the left. Only an excellent cover tackle stopped the winger but soon Chosen Hill had infringed again. With a sense of déjà vu, Hester kicked to the corner – Hunt found Bashford and the drive ended with Regan Herbert proving unstoppable from close range. Kurtis Herbert once again added the extras. 24-7.
Stroud were now playing well constructed controlled rugby with Hoyle and Gordon orchestrating the play. All the forwards were carrying well and Stroud built through the phases as Chosen Hill began to toil in the heat. Just before half time, another wide attack involving Kurtis Herbert and Phipps forced another penalty and a yellow card. This time Stroud opted for points and Kurtis Herbert maintained his 100% record and extended the lead to 20 points at half-time.
Half Time Stroud 1st XV 27Chosen Hill 1st XV 7
Adamson replaced the injured Ashenford at Half Time and was soon in the action combining with Hoyle and Hester to make good ground up the right wing before being forced into touch. Stroud continued to dominate possession but to their credit Chosen Hill were committed in defence in the first 20 minutes of the second half and prevented any further scoring.
Deep in the opposition 22, excellent pressure from Leworthy and Kurtis Herbert forced a miscued clearance kick that was gleefully taken by Gordon, whose laser like long pass found Hester ranging up on his right. Again showing great speed and elusiveness, he beat 3 would be tacklers before showing strength to power through 2 more to dive over for a great individual try. Kurtis Herbert again converted. 34-7.
Stroud were back on the attack with powerful carries from Smith, Warner and Stratton. Forcing yet another penalty at the breakdown, Kurtis Herbert continued his excellent kicking performance with a 45m clearing the cross bar with metres to spare. 37-7.
Foote replaced Hunt in the front row with Smith switching to hooker whilst Regan Herbert returned to the field to replace Stephens.
Chosen Hill refused to lie down and were attacking deep within the Stroud 22. Great defensive work from, Stephens, Flanagan and Higgins stopped forward carries but their fly-half found a back-row forward running an excellent line and he powered over by the posts. Try converted. 37-14.
Lifted by this, Chosen Hill continued their attack and a number of Stroud penalties awarded them good field possession. Another infringement looked to have put Stroud under real pressure however in their haste Chosen Hill knocked on the quick tap and Leworthy set off on an attack from deep within the 22. He released Kurtis Herbert, who kicked ahead and along with Hester and Adamson led the chase. Just as it appeared Hester would collect and score his third the bounce of the ball allowed Kurtis Herbert to regain possession and race in under the posts. He converted his own score. 44-14.
Stroud continued to press with Bashford and Higgins (on their final appearances) securing ball and allowing Gordon to feed Leworthy to carry up to half-way. Unfortunately, this time the ball was lost but this only gave the Stroud pack one last chance to show their scrum dominance. A huge surge forced Chosen Hill backwards and Hoyle’s pressure at the back of the scrum allowed him to regather the ball and race in from 40m whilst the pack celebrated back on half way. Despite Kuris Herbert’s impeccable kicking all afternoon – the duties were passed to Higgins, who with his final touch smoothly slotted the conversion. 51-14.
Full TimeStroud 1st XV 51Chosen Hill 1st XV 14
This was a fitting way for Stroud to finish off a highly creditable season and for James Bashford and Rob Higgins to bid farewell to the side after many years of service and commitment. Forward dominance certainly laid the platform for all 18 players to play with confidence and cohesion, providing free-flowing entertaining rugby, which has been the hallmark of their season.
A 4th place finish in a highly competitive Western Counties North, securing 16 wins and 799 points shows how far the squad has come this season. Despite the loss of Captain Harry Foote, through injury half way through the season, the team more than ably led by Dan Smith has proved a match for all teams and are fully deserving of their best league finish for a number of years.
Finally, many thanks should go to the hard work of coaches Lex Brookes and Ed King, which coupled with the passion and inspirational words of Director, Rupert Foote, has helped make this an entertaining and successful season for the club.