Bishops Stortford 21 – 11 Rams
Report BY JOHN ALLANSON, Bishops Stortford

Stortford reap rewards for sticking to their expansive game plan despite difficult playing conditions, whilst committing fewer handling errors than the opposition in a very tight game.
In wet and windy conditions, this was always going to be a game dominated by two strong defences and so it transpired, with the only scores of the first half coming from two penalties to Stortford flyhalf, Brad Burr. Both came from errors forced by Stortford’s strong tackling, as the visitors tried to run the ball out of defence. The first came after 20 minutes, following a good tactical kick by Brad Burr and the second, 8 minutes later came from a threatened turnover, when Dan Elsom got his hands on the ball at a tackle, as the visitors tried to run out of defence. Both opportunities arose only because Stortford refused to have the weather conditions dictate the pattern of the game, producing some outstanding handling in the conditions, as they persisted with playing ambitious rugby, despite the inevitable occasional errors. In fact, the visitors, sticking to a much more limited, largely forward-orientated game plan – arguably better suited to the tricky conditions – made more handling errors in the face of Stortford’s blanket defence.

The second half was much more eventful, with Rams halving the deficit within a minute of the restart, when Stortford failed to release at a tackle almost under their post. Louis Ellis made no mistake from the tee but, within 2 minutes the home side had extended their lead via a try out wide to Baxter Wilson, as the ball, once again, was moved quickly about the field. Burr’s conversion attempt fell just short and it was the visitors’ turn to ramp up the pressure, as they showed some rare ambition in moving the ball quickly across the field, forcing a penalty at a breakdown in front of Stortford’s posts. This left Ellis with an easy task to double his side’s points. With the visitors’ pack briefly totally dominant at the scrum, following front row personnel changes, Rams applied considerable pressure to the Stortford line, but tremendous defence against scrum and attacking lineout eventually lifted the siege via a breakdown penalty. The home side then enjoyed their own period of concerted pressure on the opposition try line but, despite going close to a score a couple of times, eventually a Stortford forward got isolated and Rams were quick to get in over the ball and force their own penalty with some 10 minutes left to play. The visitors were unable to escape their own half, though and an immediate counterattack from one of a number of lineout steals from James Apperley put winger Josh Stannard one on one against his opposite number. He showed his power to break a strong tackle and drew the cover defence across, before, finding James Ayrton in close support on the inside. The pacey centre did the rest, sprinting in from the 22 for an excellent try. Burr coolly slotted the conversion to stretch the home lead to 12 points on 72 minutes, but this was cut to only 7 within a minute, when replacement scrumhalf, Jack Moates caught Stortford’s defence uncharacteristically flat-footed around the base of a ruck to scoot clear and burst into the home 22. Two quick phases were enough to see winger, Conor Corrigan in for a try and Ellis was unlucky to see his conversion attempt bounce out off a post. Continuing the see-sawing pattern of the second half, it was now Stortford’s turn to batter again at the opposition line, as their forwards drove time after time to within inches of a game-clinching try. Rather than risk another crucial turnover, though, Burr took charge and, stepping back into the pocket, comfortably slotted a rare drop goal to establish a 10 point lead, putting the visitors out of bonus point range. There was just enough time left for the game to be restarted, but Stortford’s midfield defence held tight and a knock-on brought the game to an end for a well-deserved home victory.

The NFU Mutual Man of the Match award went to Brad Burr, in recognition of the calm, controlling influence he had exerted over much of the game, in particular, building attacking pressure with some well-judged chip kicks and winning the territorial battle overall with telling positional kicks. This important win was, though, the result of tremendous efforts by the whole squad, showing great determination throughout and impressive intensity to make so few handling errors in the difficult conditions. Well played, boys!

Cinderford v Hull Ionians was postponed

Old Elthamians 20 – 8 Chinnor
Report by Jon Edwards, Old Elthamians

Elthamians produced an impressive and disciplined display of wet weather rugby to secure a deserved victory over Chinnor in atrocious conditions at College Meadow.
Old Elthamians 20 Chinnor 8

On the evidence of this much-needed victory, you can expect OEs DoR Gavin Lach to be performing a rain dance every Saturday morning until the end of the season.

For the second successive home game, Elthamians produced an impressive and disciplined display of wet weather rugby to secure a thoroughly deserved win at a rain-lashed and windy College Meadow.

Whether the adverse conditions curbs their natural instinct to take risks with the ball in hand, or simply focuses minds on the basics of ball retention, discipline and game management, but Elthamians seem to take to wet weather like ducks to water.

Although this lacked the free-flowing creativity and fizz of the six-try romp in the wet against Birmingham Moseley, in many respects this was a better performance because they were forced to dig deep and grind out the win against a tough and uncompromising Chinnor side who kept coming until the end.

In a game of few clear-cut scoring opportunities, OEs’ ball retention and tireless work defensively in a hard fought second period proved decisive.

With a strong wind behind them in the first half, Elthamians dominated possession and territory but struggled to break down a well organised Chinnor defence.

The pattern was set early on with Tom White and Louis Brown pinning Chinnor in and around their 22 with kicks to both corners.

For the visitors, kicking against the wind was not an option, so it was to their credit that they were able to secure enough set-piece ball in the opening half hour to work their way out of trouble through a succession of forward drives.

Invariably, however, Elthamians would force a turnover and the visitors would find themselves hemmed in their own 22 again.

The pattern continued for much of the first half as OEs poked and probed at the wall of black shirts. Ollie Claxton and the outstanding Jared Sanders, relishing the freedom of the back row, both made strong runs into the heart of Chinnor territory, but Elthamians had little joy breaking down some aggressive and disciplined defence.

Tom White and Laurence May swapped penalties midway through the half before the home side finally made the breakthrough on 30 minutes. George Perkins raced on to White’s clever chip over the on-rushing defence and off-loaded to No.8 Mike Kovacic on his shoulder for an easy run to the line.

It was a crucial score in an impressive opening 40 minutes from Elthamians. But in truth, a 10-3 interval lead never looked like being enough with the ever-worsening conditions against them after the restart.

Chinnor clearly thought the same as they started the second half brimming with intent and purpose.

After a strong opening 10-minute spell, they forced a turnover from a kick through in a dangerous position in the OEs 22. However, from the resulting 5 metre scrum, the Elthamians pack shunted the visitors off their own ball and were able to clear the danger.

It was to prove a defining moment because the first elements of doubt began to creep in to the visitors’ game. It also served as a rallying call for a rejuvenated Elthamians side who defended with such disciplined aggression for the remainder of this intriguing contest that Chinnor rarely looked like breaching the try-line despite securing the majority of possession after the break.

Superb work by replacement No.8 Ben King singlehandedly held up a Chinnor maul as they attempted another drive into the OEs 22. Then, like a boxer on the ropes, having soaked up pressure for much of the third quarter, Elthamians hit the visitors with a classic sucker punch on 61 minutes.

A rare foray into the Chinnor half, earned OEs a penalty which White kicked to the corner. From the resulting lineout, the home pack, and it seemed most of their backs, combined to drive hooker Nathan Morris over for the try – his third in three games.

White added the conversion and then kicked a penalty for good measure to extend the lead to 20-3 and at the stage Elthamians were in control and playing the conditions superbly.]

However, they were forced to play the final 10 minutes with only 14 men after White was shown a yellow card by referee Nick Wood for a dangerous fend as he attempted to hold off a Chinnor tackler.

The visitors took advantage of their extra man with four minutes remaining when winger Jason Worrall made a searing break into the home 22 and sucked in two defenders before off-loading to centre Danny Barnes who crossed in the corner.

The score gave Chinnor a second wind in the closing moments as they camped in the home 22. But the Elthamians defence, outstanding all afternoon, held firm to secure a deserved home victory.

SCORERS:
Old Elthamians
Tries: Kovacic 30 Morris 60
Cons: White x 2 (30 60)
Pens: White x 2 (20 63)

Chinnor
Tries: Barnes 73
Cons:
Pens: May 23

TEAMS
Old Elthamians: Brown, Hotston, Koteczky, Eastwell, Perkins, White, Claxton; Concu, Morris, Hay, Flashman, Batt, Saunders, Barton, Kovacic. Subs: North, Self, King, Morgan, Dockery.

Chinnor: Goss, Worrall, Barnes, Laverick, Yawayawa, May, Flinn; Southworth, Selway, McNulty, Thomas, Gray, Treviranus, Kirwan, W Ryan. Subs: Fidler, Petch, Marley, Aiono, C Ryan

Referee: Nick Wood

Yellow card: Tom White (Old Elthamians) 68 mins

Half-time: OId Elthamians 10 Chinnor 3

Plymouth Albion 21 – 26 Blackheath
Report By Jack Guthrie, Plymouth Albion

Plymouth Albion’s players looked downtrodden walking off the pitch on Saturday afternoon, as they suffered a 26-19 bonus point loss against Blackheath after an oddly flat performance.
For the majority of the game the away side dictated the run of play, their experience showing as they comfortably held off the attempts of the young home side.
Albion’s head coach Ben Gulliver was exasperated after the performance, saying: “I’m really frustrated. Fair play to Blackheath they were pretty good and we were pretty average for 60 or 70 minutes today. Sometimes you just have to give the opposition a bit of credit.”
Albion seemed vacant for the entirety of the first half, conceding tries after needless penalties and lapses in concentration defensively.
They went into the half 14 points down, but the sheer amount of errors in tackling and ball handling justified the scoreline. The pitch conditions did not favour either side with endless resets after every scrum, and slips in attack from both outfits.
Blackheath compounded the misery shortly into the second half, as a poor kick managed to be turned over back into their possession, with Plymouth conceding a penalty immediately and then ultimately another try from a driving maul.
The bonus point was secured by both teams later in the second after Blackheath grabbed their fourth, and Albion scored two late consolation tries.
The south-east London side had their first opportunity to work the scoreboard as they received a penalty on eight minutes, but what looked like a simple kick was missed by fly-half Mark Cooke.
Fans had to wait until the 20th minute for the first score of the game with the hosts conceding a penalty allowing field position to their opponents. The resultant line-out set up a driving maul for hooker Harry Fry to bundle over the line, Cooke not missing the mark from the tee this time.
Blackheath continued to harass Albion, forcing them to kick and showing unrelenting force in the tackles. The visiting backs looked formidable as they broke tackles and made plenty of opportunities to score, however Albion’s forwards held them at bay when it counted.
This continued until the dying moments of the first period where the visitors scored again, this time Leo Fielding who was able to break two tackles to run in after a succession of offloads in Plymouth’s 22 yard area.
Cooke converted again and the home side looked deflated, conceding cheap penalties for lacks of discipline until the whistle.
Coming out of the half, Albion had a nightmare start to proceedings. An awful kick from the Blackheath kick-off was recovered after a mix up in defence by the receivers.
They conceded a penalty for offside which allowed the hosts an easy kick to the corner, setting up another driving maul from the line-out for hooker Fry to get his second, with Cooke missing his second of the game.
Gulliver made some crucial substitutions in an attempt to resurrect his side’s performance. They managed to get a try back through substitute Sam Daly, copying his opposite number Fry with a try from a driving maul after a line-out, which have proven successful many times for Albion this season. Eastgate missed the conversion and Gulliver made more swaps in midfield.
Joe Snow left the field after a poor performance, so different to his performance against Sale, with Oliver Mulberry taking his place for the remaining 15 minutes.
The changes did not help Albion’s defence promptly however, as prop Tom Williams went over the line for Blackheath’s bonus point try with Cooke converting to make it 26-5, leaving 10 minutes for three converted scores to get a draw.
Albion played doggedly in the home stretch, and dominated the closing stages. Another substitute in Koree Britton gave the hosts hope in the 76th minute as another line-out was finished with a driving maul try and a conversion from Eastgate.
For the first time in the match the away side looked lacklustre in defence. Another penalty was conceded in their own 22, and Albion went for the corner again.
With 80 minutes on the running clock a penalty try was awarded to Albion after the maul was collapsed just before the try line, with the referee sprinting under the posts awarding seven points after the infringement.
With Albion only requiring a converted try to draw, they bolted down the wing from the kick-off, but a misguided pass from Sam Morley went forward to Alex Ducker who was open, and the play was called back.
Blackheath got the ball and launched it over the stand to end the game, leaving Albion fans in despair.
After the game Gulliver said: “I’m fully confident that we will be a good team moving forward in the coming weeks if we can string these pockets of 10 or 20 minutes of good play together.”
After their uncharacteristic defensive performance in this game, Albion will be looking to rise back to the defensive stature that they have shown in recent weeks, and skip over what fans will hope is an anomaly this season.
Line ups
Plymouth Albion
15.C. Eastgate 14.J Skelcey 13.D. Squire 12.J. Pohe 11.A. Ducker 10.S. Morley 9.J. Snow 1.J. Higgins 2.J. Salter 3.D. Pullinger 4.D. Collier 5.L. Pearson 6.G. Mills 7.P. Ingoldsby 8.D. Swain
Subs
16.S. Daly 17.M. Norey 18.D. Powell 19.K. Britton 20.O. Mulberry
Tries: S. Daly, K. Britton, Penalty try
Convs: C. Eastgate (2)
Pens: N/A
Blackheath
15.L. Fielding 14.J. LLoyd 13.A. Pickersgill 12.M. Burcham 11.C. Dowsett 10.M. Cooke 9.J. Daly 1.T. Williams 2.H. Fry 3.D. Herriott 4.S. Sheriff 5.T. Stradwick 6.T. Baldwin 7.J. Poole 8.T. Burns
Subs
16.M. Perks 17.H. Seward 18.J. Catt 19.F. Owen 20.B. Ransom
Tries: H. Fry (2), L. Fielding, T. Williams
Convs: M. Cooke (3)
Pens: N/A
Attendance: 972

Rosslyn Park 27 – 21 Birmingham Moseley
Report by by Paul Smith, Birmingham Moseley

A late Aquile Smith try ensured Birmingham Moseley left rain-lashed Rosslyn Park with a losing bonus point.

The visitors had earlier been awarded a penalty try, while Cliffie Hodgson’s first outing with the kicking tee returned nine points.

Back-rower Dan Laventure, fly half Greg Lound and replacement hooker Owen Hughes touched down for the hosts, who led 14-6 at the break.

After eight rounds of action, Adam Balding’s team lie fifth in the National One table, while Park retain their grip on second place, now five points ahead of the Red-and-Blacks and three behind leaders Richmond.

Moseley lost prop James Tideswell to the sinbin following the concession of a number of early penalties.

However, the visitors defended resolutely with 14 men and as a result the contest had entered the second quarter before Rosslyn Park put the first points on the board. These took the form of a Laventure try, well converted by Lound

Back-to-back penalties from Hodgson closed the gap to a single point only for Park to claim a second try two minutes before the break

Former Coventry lock Greg Gillanders was the provider, offloading neatly to Lound who scored beneath the posts.

Joe Munro’s conversion left the visitors facing a 14-6 interval deficit, but the visitors were soon back within range after Hodgson slotted his third successful penalty.

And Moseley had the lead for the first time just ahead of the hour mark when their front row’s powerful scrummaging forced the award of a penalty try.

However, Park wrestled back the initiative when Craig Holland twice split the uprights with well-struck penalties.

And with visiting hooker Pete Austin kicking his heels in the sinbin, the home side stretched their lead when Hughes applied the finishing touch to a lineout drive.

Pacy winger Smith’s eighth try in as many league outings was a simple finish from a perfectly-weighted Hodgson kick pass, but the closing eight minutes failed to deliver the match-clinching score which would have delivered a second away win of the campaign.

Rosslyn Park: Robinson, Marfo, Cheeseman, Munro, Edwards, Lound, Gash; Traynor, Vaughan-Edwards, Doran-Jones, Twomey, Gillanders, Laventure, A Ellis, H Ellis. Reps: Hughes, Lovell, Spencer, Lewis, Holland.

Birmingham Moseley: O’Brien, Smith, Morris, Fatiaki, Davetanivalu, Hodgson, Arr; Foreman, Auston, Tideswell, Crofts, Wright, Monks, Dawes, Le Roux. Reps: Tanner, Titchard-Jones, Stephens, Jolly, Tonks.

Scorers:

Rosslyn Park:

Tries: Laventure, Round, Hughes.

Cons: Lound, Munro, Holland

Pen: Holland (2)

Birmingham Moseley:

Tries: Smith, Penalty Try

Cons:

Pens: Hodgson (3)

Half-time: Rosslyn Park 14-6 Birmingham Moseley

Rotherham 6 – 23 Richmond
Report From Titans website

Rotherham Titans suffered a disappointing 23-6 home defeat to Richmond at a wet and windy Clifton Lane.

Richmond, who were relegated from the Championship last term, managed the tricky conditions much the better and executed their simple game plan to great effect.

The London based outfit outscored the Titans by two tries to none, to maintain their position at the top of the league.

Rotherham now need to regroup ahead of their big local derby next weekend against Hull Ionians.

The wet conditions and heavy pitch probably suited the Richmond style more than it did Rotherham’s. However, as the game wore on the greater physicality shown by the league leaders ultimately saw them home to a comfortable victory.

Richmond’s experienced pack of forwards had the edge throughout, particularly so after opening the scoring on 12 minutes through loose head prop Alex Banfield, following a series of pick and drives inside the Titans 22. Full back Rob Kirby converted the dot down and added two further penalties during the first half.

Rotherham did have some bright moments in the first period, but all too often at crucial times poor decision making or poor execution, frustratingly let them down.

With the final play of the half however Rotherham put a spell of pressure together through their pack which had the visitors scrambling around in defence at sixes and sevens and although unable to cross the whitewash Rotherham did get on the board through a Sam Hollingsworth penalty.

Coming out for the second half Titans hopes were high that a comeback was on the cards, particularly with the gusty breeze now in their favour.

Those hopes received a further boost just five minutes in when another 3-pointer from Hollingsworth reduced Rotherham’s arrears to 13-6.

Unfortunately for the South Yorkshire side, that was about as good as it would get!

Last season’s Championship side showed their experience by slowly exerting control at the set piece and the breakdown, which in turn set the platform for what was to follow.

Richmond extended their lead on 50 minutes when a powerful catch and drive was finished off by hooker Ross Grimstone and converted by Kirby. The latter added a penalty two minutes later to stretch his side’s advantage to 23-6.

Although Titans would not score again, they do deserve some credit as they ensured neither would their opponents.

Commenting post-match a disappointed joint head coach, Matt Smith, explained, “It was a tough game against the league leaders and one of the key aspects for me was the amount of mistakes that we made compared to them. I think we both had similar game plans, but Richmond executed theirs better than we did.

“To be fair Richmond didn’t make too many errors; I didn’t think they did much, but they didn’t need to because our errors gave them enough opportunities.

“I thought at times we got ourselves into the right areas; in the first half we had a driving maul that got held up, but we came away with 3 points which was positive.

“In the second half on the couple of occasions that we got into their 22 we couldn’t turn that pressure into points and that’s probably the most disappointing aspect that we couldn’t turn our positive moments into points.

“The difference was when Richmond got into our 22 they did come away with points.

“We are very frustrated with how we performed, hopefully the boys can learn from today’s experience, how to see games out and how to suffocate teams, because that’s what Richmond did really well today.”

Referee: Charlie Gayther

Attendance: 517

Yellow Card: None

Titans: Hollingsworth (2P)

Richmond: Banfield (T), Grimstone (T), Kirby (3P, 2C)

Titans: 15 George Castledine (Bunting 50), 14 Tom Bacon, 13 Connor Field, 12 Tom Bullough, 11 Ben Robbins, 10 Sam Hollingsworth, 9 Connor Dever, 1 Toby Williams, 2 Agustin Defelitto (Bergmanas 25), 3 Will Dennis (Whitfield 15), 4 Dan Preston-Routledge (Waddington 66), 5 Kieran Frost, 6 Alfie North (Ward 50), 7 Lewis Wilson, 8 Zak Poole (Capt.).

Replacements: 16 Jack Bergmanas, 17 Harry Whitfield, 18 Elliott Ward, 19 Ben Waddington, 20 Morgan Bunting.

Richmond: 15 Rob Kirby (Dennett 73), 14 Dan Kelly, 13 Cameron Mitchell (Capt.), 12 Giles Bromley-Martin, 11 Hamish Graham, 10 Tom Hodgson, 9 Jamie Gibbs (Dabell 64), 1 Alex Banfield (Green 72), 2 Ross Grimstone (Gibbings 69), 3 Ken Dowding, 4 Byron Hodge, 5 Max Crawford, 6 Jake Parker (Nixon 73), 7 Toby Saysell, 8 Jesse Liston.

Replacements: 16 Luke Green, 17 Charlie Gibbings, 18 Ryan Nixon, 19 Toby Dabell, 20 Lewis Dennett.

Sale FC 20 – 3 Cambridge
Report By Bob Smith, Sale FC

Sale lift the gloom with a return to winning ways

Edited By Aidan Giblett

Clear scoring chances were few and far between in a first half where defences dominated. Cambridge had the upper hand in the early stages , forcing Sale to concede 2 penalties in quick succession ,the latter in scoring range, but the chance was missed.

As both teams effectively cancelled each other out with some resolute defensive play , Sale number 8 Jarad Williams was always available to take the game to the opposition.

The visitors continued to apply sustained pressure on Sale without ever really showing a cutting edge . As the match moved into the last few minutes of the first half , Sale began to take the initiative with some positive attacking play through the backs which so nearly resulted in a Sale try. Good lineout play from Matt Postlethwaite gave fly half James Williams the chance to find a gap and burst through the Cambridge defence, only to be held up with the try line just inches away.

HT Sale 00 vs Cambridge 00

The second half got underway with Cambridge quickly on the front foot, flanker Matt Dawson taking the visitors inside the Sale 22. Once again , resolute defence was the platform for Sale to clear their lines and get into an attacking position. The first score of the match came with a James Williams penalty , on 44 minutes , followed by another successful kick minutes later.

Cambridge reduced the arrears with a penalty on their own as the match approached the last quarter. The critical moment came in the 61st minute when after a strong break by full back Jonty Rawcliffe almost made the try line but was quickly followed by the Sale pack, driving at the line ,captain Andy Hughes eventually diving over to score.

Despite the 10-point advantage ,Sale had to put tremendous effort into repelling Cambridge as they attempted to get back in the game.

It was effectively all over in the 77th minute as Sales substitute scrum half Raffi Quirke was quickest to react to a loose ball following a less than text book lineout. Breaking down the narrow side he outpaced the covering defenders to score a wonderful breakaway try . A superb conversion from James Williams gave Sale an unassailable lead and taking his personal tally for the day to 4 scores from 4 attempts.

All in all, a gutsy, wholehearted effort from the Sale team against a solid ,hard working team in Cambridge.

FT Sale 20 vs Cambridge 03