After two comfortable victories in pre-season, hopes were high but all involved knew this would be a much tougher test.
Stroud: 1 Dan Smith (Captain) 2 Phil Fruin 3 Josh Stratton 4 Ben Stephens 5 Joe Owen 6 Regan Herbert 7 Stewart Hendry 8 Phil Middlemiss 9 Joe Hoyle 10 Dan Gordon 11 Jordan Phipps 12 Sam Leworthy 13 Kurtis Herbert 14 Pete Sykes 15 Sam Hester 16 Tommy Allen 17 Joe Ashenford 18 Jake Marsh
Stroud kicked off, playing up the slope in the first half, and soon showed their focus from the start with powerful defence from the back row trio of Herbert, Hendry and Middlemiss. Barton Hill struggled to make any significant ground and were soon penalised for holding on with Herbert quickly over the ball. Hester kicked for touch allowing Smith to find Owen and set up the drive. A huge surge took the play deep into the 22 and Stroud seemed destined to drive over until Barton Hill were penalised for offside. Kurtis Herbert calmly kicked the penalty to open the scoring. 0-3.
The first of a number of secure takes from Owen at the restart allowed Stroud to begin to work through the phases with Regan Herbert and Hendry both carrying strongly and drawing in multiple tacklers before Hoyle and Gordon looked to spread play wider. Unfortunately, a handling error turned over possession and allowed Barton Hill their first attacking opportunity. Determined to take the direct route they found the inside three of Gordon, Leworthy and Kurtis Herbert more than up to the task of repelling them. Indeed the pressure exerted by the defensive press allowed Regan Herbert to appear to secure another turnover before being harshly penalised for not releasing. The Barton Hill Fly-Half slotted the penalty to level the scores. 3-3.
A misplaced restart handed Barton Hill the initiative but once again great work around the fringes from Herbert and Hendry stopped any great gains. Eventually, defensive pressure forced a handling error and Stroud began to show patience in their build up with Stratton, Owen and Middlemiss all carrying well beyond the gain line before Hoyle and Gordon released Phipps to show elusiveness and power to make ground up the left wing into the 22. A quick clear-out caught Barton Hill offside and allowed Kurtis Herbert to kick the 3 points. 3-6.
Hendry secured the restart and as on every occasion this afternoon made considerable yardage before Smith and Fruin continued the forward momentum. Switching play Hoyle found Owen, who made a half break but unfortunately his offload did not go to hand. Barton Hill seized upon the loose ball and hacked on into the bottom corner. Calm work by Hester and Phipps appeared to have rescued possession only for Stroud to be penalised at the breakdown and give the opportunity for Barton Hill to level the scores. 6-6.
An excellent kick chase from Stephens and Owen pressurised the opposition and forced a knock on that was seized upon by Fruin. Gordon found Hendry, who powered up the left wing before finding Hoyle supporting on the inside and the scrum-half ran in from 30m. Kurtis Herbert converted. 6-13
Owen secured another kick-off and carried strongly, driven on by Stratton. Regan Herbert and Hendry continued with their “wrecking ball” carries, ensuring Stroud were playing the majority of the first half firmly on the front foot. The scrummage was secure and Stephens, Owen and Hendry were securing ample possession at the line-out. Defensively, Stroud were stopping any great gains by Barton Hill with Fruin, Owen and Hendry showing the value of low-chop tackling, whilst Regan Herbert and Middlemiss regularly drove ball carriers back.
Barton Hill resorted to kicking deep and using the slope but this only enabled Stroud to show their attacking flair. A kick through was safely covered by Hester, who dotted down for a 22m drop out before firing the ball forward to the ever alert Gordon to take a quick drop out and regather before finding Leworthy, who made ground up the left wing using his trademark fend to great effect. Hoyle again ran an excellent support line and took play on before finding Kurtis Herbert to run in in the left hand corner for a length of the field score. 6-18.
Barton Hill kicked their third penalty to reduce the gap 9-18 but Stroud did not panic and were soon back deep into the opposition 22. Leworthy this time made ground up the middle before a quick snipe from Hoyle saw him accelerate through the gap. He was stopped more by the uneven pitch than opposition tacklers, appearing to stumble as he raced into the 22. This allowed the defence to scramble back and stall the attack and unfortunately end Hoyle’s afternoon as he had to leave the field with injury to be replaced by Ashenford.
Continuing to press, Gordon found space in behind the defensive line with an astute kick that was well followed up by Hester and Sykes. The chase caused panic in the defence and Regan Herbert put in a huge hit which forced a knock on. Stroud secured scrum ball and although their first attack was thwarted, patient work from Smith and Stratton close to the ruck set the platform for the ball to be spread wide left and find Phipps, who raced over on the left. Kurtis Herbert converted. 9-25.
Half Time Barton Hill 9Stroud 25
With a 16 point lead and the slope now in their favour, Stroud started the second half positively with a Hendry take and drive before Gordon freed Hester and Sykes on the right. Sykes found the outside before kicking ahead and another excellent chase from Hester and himself forced the Barton Hill Full Back to carry over his own line. Stroud did not make the most of the opportunity from the scrum and Barton Hill were able to clear. Within minutes however Stroud were back on the attack with Phipps returning a kick with strong support from Leworthy and Owen. Ashenford spread play wide and a pinpoint wide ball from Gordon found Hester who was stopped only metres short. A good clear-out allowed Ashenford to follow up and dive though a gap close to the ruck to score. Kurtis Herbert converted. 9-32.
With Stroud now dominating all phases of the game it would have been easy for Barton Hill heads to drop however this was not the case and to their credit they took the game back to Stroud. Running back a long range penalty kick from Herbert, which fell just short, they made significant ground up the Stroud left. Opting for the direct approach, they secured regular possession and forced Stroud back into their own 22 for the first time in the game. Stroud defence remained resolute with Owen, Fruin and Hendry to the fore ably supported by Gordon and Phipps, who put in more than their share of tackles. Pressure eventually told as Smith was sin binned and Barton Hill capitalised on their numerical advantage scoring from a scrum on the right. Try Converted. 16-32.
Allen came on to prop for Smith but Owen had to leave the field for the sin bin. Stroud showed tremendous commitment and organisation and despite being down to 14 men never allowed Barton Hill back into their 22. Stroud were unlucky not to extend their lead with first Middlemiss putting Leworthy through a gap with an inside ball and he in turn releasing Ashenford - sadly, the final pass to Kurtis Herbert went to ground. Herbert was again unfortunate soon after when a long pass to him from Gordon was harshly adjudged to be forward with him clear and Phipps in support with only the Full Back to beat.
Smith and Owen returned to the field and soon Stroud made the most of getting back to 15 men. A huge 8 man shove forced Barton Hill back at a rate of knots and earned a well-deserved penalty from which Hester found a great touch only 5m out. Although the initial drive was repelled, Stroud were not be held out for long. Leworthy again carried strongly before Ashenford and Gordon spread the play wide to Sykes, who took play within 5m. From a solid scrum Middlemiss was able to pick and power over in the right hand corner to complete the scoring. 16-37.
Full Time Barton Hill 16Stroud 37
This was a hugely positive start for Stroud, who showed commitment, organisation and skill in equal measure to dominate many phases of the game especially in a terrific first half performance.
With the hard work of players in pre-season and the input of the new coaching team beginning to reap early rewards hopes should be high for Stroud this season and this initial performance has certainly set the bar for the games to come.
Next Fixture: Saturday 14th September v Bristol Saracens (Home) Kick-Off 1500.