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Bishops Stortford Rugby Club (BSRFC)

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The Club was formed in 1920, playing it’s first matches at Dunmow Road before moving to the present location at Silver Leys in 1928. Presently the club has 8 senior teams including veterans and ladies, 11 junior teams & 7 teams for ages 6-12. The 1st XV compete in the National League 2 London & SE and are proud of the fact that even though they are the only team in the league that doesn’t pay any of it’s players they are competitive enough to challenge for promotion each year. Mainly the clubs’ players are from Bishop’s Stortford and surrounding area educated in the art of rugby at local schools and colleges. The club has international pedigree as former England and British Lions back row Ben Clarke started his rugby career at Bishop’s Stortford before moving onto represent his country on 40 occasions. For more information on BSRFC and to follow their progress please click here.

Sat 7th April – Bishop’s Stortford 1st XV 71 Fylde 24

What a difference a week makes – fine, warm, dry conditions v driving, pouring rain and a total of 95 points v 20!

Both sides responded to the spring-like weather and looked to play attacking, running rugby from the off in this match, generously sponsored by Forward Corporate Finance. Even allowing for a certain generosity on the part of both defences at times, though, the cascade of tries that awaited could not have been anticipated.

Despite the lesson received in the reverse fixture, that, notwithstanding their lowly league position, Fylde should not be taken lightly, Stortford did not start as aggressively as recent performances might have led us to expect and the visitors dominated possession for the first few minutes. It is true that they hadn’t really threatened to breach the Stortford defence, but it was nevertheless against the run of play that the home side took the lead, when Sam Winter almost had time to send a reply to the telegram before stepping forward to intercept a long, floated pass and stride in under the posts to give George Cullen an easy additional 2 points. The visitors quickly proved, though that they were far from toothless, as, 3 minutes later, fullback, Connor Wilkinson came into the back line to take a pass in midfield and expose a flaw in Stortford’s defensive organisation to scoot over for an unconverted try out wide. Within 3 minutes, though the Stortford lead was widened, when Ryan Hutler took a good, long pass from George Cullen to dash over in the corner, after Tom Banks had run back at the heart of the Fylde defence, after a handling error by the visitors. The next score was a whole 10 minutes in coming and this saw the scores levelled, as Fylde’s speedy left wing, Tom Carleton (with a famous dad, who knew a bit about scoring) stepped in to take a well-targeted, long pass and break a couple of tackles to go in near the opposite touchline. A great conversion by flyhalf, Greg Smith took the scores level and there was a brief feeling of foreboding for the home supporters, who had witnessed the match up at Fylde. Fortunately, though it was only 4 minutes before Hutler bagged his second try, rounding off a move started by one of a number of decisive breaks in midfield by Steve Ball. Cullen matched his opposite number’s recent feat and converted from out wide, as he did three minutes later, when Hutler completed a high-speed hat-trick of tries, after Joss Linney had made a great catch from a Cullen tactical kick out of defence to set up position. Not content with three, the left winger notched his fourth touchdown with the last move of the half, dummying over with a teammate free outside, after a good burst up the middle by Matt Tomlinson. Cullen knocked over the routine conversion to take the halftime scoreline to 33-12.

Stortford started the second period on the front foot but were, perhaps guilty of an understandable bout of overconfidence and conceded possession to allow the visitors to counter. This they did to good effect and, with 5 minutes gone they had scored another unconverted try, as Carleton again finished off the best passage of rugby produced by Fylde all day, involving the ball passing through many pairs of hands with a couple of excellent offloads to stretch the home defence to breaking point. Mr Hutler was not done, though and he stepped in off his wing to take a pass in midfield and exploit a defensive mismatch to sprint round a leaden-footed marker to go over for his 5th try after Linney had created position with some good work on the opposite wing. Another good Cullen conversion took his team’s total to 40 points. This figure moved to 45 after 19 minutes, when Baxter Wilson reaped the reward of an action-packed performance to pick up a clever crossfield grubber kick from Nick Hankin out wide on the right and although having to check back for an unlucky bounce, the flanker managed to force his way through a cover tackle for a much-celebrated try. Another try went to a Stortford winger – but, this time, Linney! – after 27 minutes, when he used both pace and power to burst through a gap in Fylde’s stretched midfield defence, after a quick lineout had been taken from a long Fylde kick out of defence. Undaunted by the flood of scores conceded, the visitors fought back spiritedly and, after a couple of penalties in quick succession they created enough room for second row Oli Parkinson to plunge over out wide for their bonus point try. Another great conversion by Smith took their tally to 24 after 28 minutes.

That was as good as it was going to get for Fylde, though and, within two minutes they had conceded another unconverted try, as Will Roberts drove over at the back of a maul from a lineout some 7 metres from the visitors’ line, following a penalty. This was not the end of the scoring, with two more converted tries to come in the last two minutes of the game. The first was finished by Chris Smith (on to complete the double hat-trick for Stortford’s left wings), after Hankin had made a good run and half break up the middle. Arguably the best score of the match (sorry, Ryan!), though had been saved until last when, straight from the restart, Cullen chipped an inch-perfect kick over the advancing defence, for Winter to gather it on the full, draw the last defender and set Hankin clear to run in from 60 yards, in a perfect execution of a training-ground move. Cullen’s routine conversion from in front completed another good day for him from the tee with 8 out of 11 – most of them nowhere near as easy! – and sent the Ladies’ day crowd back very happily to the Clubhouse/marquee.

Friday 30th March – Bishop’s Stortford 1st XV 15 Blackheath 5

Despite Blackheath’s obvious weight advantage in the pack, Stortford cope with the horrendous conditions of horizontally pouring rain better, to dog out a great win.

It looked in the early stages as if the big visiting forwards would be decisive in conditions clearly favouring tight rugby in this match, sponsored by great Club supporters, Harlow Agricultural Merchants (HAM). Prospects, therefore looked good for Blackheath to maintain their record for the season of not having lost twice to the same side. They certainly convinced the referee that they had an edge, as he awarded two penalties at successive scrums against the Stortford front row before the ball had gone in – even though the pack subsequently managed to scrummage legally through completed scrums. Blackheath exploited this initial advantage to the full and went through several phases of forward drives, before switching the ball to the open spaces and one good long pass was enough to send flanker, Harry Bate in for a try out wide on 10 minutes, after the home defence had been sucked in. The conversion attempt went wide and Stortford bounced straight back to get onto the front foot and, eventually, courtesy of a penalty of their own at a breakdown, won a lineout well inside the Blackheath 22. A classic catch and drive was executed to see Dec Caulfield driven over for an equalising try after 20 minutes, with George Cullen’s attempted conversion falling just short. The rest of the half was spent in a midfield arm-wrestle with neither side being able to establish an advantage in the appalling conditions, leaving the scores deservedly level at the break.

Stortford started the second period strongly and persisted, despite the weather to attempt to move the ball around , with some initial success. This almost cost them though, when a stray pass around halfway fell into space and Blackheath fly-hacked the ball on to within very close range of the Stortford line. The home side managed to drive their opponents back, however and, having steadily worked their way upfield, forced a penalty, which Cullen converted, despite the conditions,to take his side into a 3 point lead after 9 minutes. From the restart, Blackheath moved onto the attack and had worked their way well into the Stortford 22, when Will Roberts was penalised and arguably, rather harshly sin-binned for a high tackle as he slid in to a cover tackle. At this stage, the writing appeared to be on the wall, but Stortford held out two successive Blackheath scrums and then produced some typically dogged, backs to the wall defence, as the visitors launched drive after drive at their line. Eventually, the solid defensive wall forced a breakdown penalty, which proved to be a major turning point. Stortford slowly ground their way up field again and, having seen out the sin bin period, established a sudden clear advantage at the set scrum, managing to take two balls against the head. This and some controlled handling put them on the front foot inside the visitors’ half and a spell of quick handling through a series of short passes to the flood of supporting players finally forced a breach in the Blackheath defence and Seb Brownhill was able to crash over under the posts for a try, which Cullen duly converted to take their side out to a 10 point lead with 15 minutes to go. The visitors never really looked like coming back from this deficit and their cause wasn’t helped, when their tighthead prop was sin binned for taking out Rob Duff off the ball, as Stortford looked to move the ball out of defence. Time was duly seen out and the massive crowd of home supporters who had braved the foul weather to cheer on their side in this rearranged fixture were sent back to the bar with smiles on their faces. The Man of the Match award, donated by our loyal Colts’ sponsors, Charterhouse Voice and Data went to Will Roberts against his old team, though it could probably have gone to any of the 11 forwards for their tremendous collective performance – or indeed to any of backs for their heroism in sticking manfully to their tasks in the bone-chilling conditions, which inevitably restricted their roles.

Sat 24 March – Darlington Mowden Park 41 Bishop’s Stortford 1st VX 35

 
Great game of free-flowing rugby sees Stortford fall narrowly short of what would have been a memorable victory away to second-placed DMP.

Confronted by possibly the best attacking team we have faced, Stortford found themselves 10 points behind with barely 5 minutes gone, as DMP’s 15 man rugby and superb off-loading game made them almost impossible to defend against. An excellent converted try and penalty were the outcome and a lesser side than Stortford might have buckled at that stage. Instead, they fought back via a great leaping catch by Nick Hankin from a testing kick out of defence by the home side, from which Tom Banks drew the DMP winger and gave Sam Winter enough room to burst down the outside and then supported inside to take a return pass and touch down close to the posts with 15 minutes gone. George Cullen’s conversion narrowed the gap to 3. Although the home side continued to threaten, Stortford’s aggressive defence – epitomised by one 30 yard sprint by hooker, Dec Caulfield to cover-tackle a threatening DMP wing into touch – kept them in the game and was rewarded after 20 minutes, when Cullen countered with a half break and, although his attempted offload dropped into space, Matt Riddington had the presence of mind to volley it forward, before regathering and dashing under the posts for another converted try. DMP fought back and were threatening the Stortford line some 7 minutes later, when Ryan Hutler leapt to intercept a potential scoring pass and run virtually the length of the pitch for another 7 pointer. The game had been played at a furious pace throughout and the home side, undaunted by the ruthless punishment of their previous error, threw themselves once more onto the attack and were rewarded with another quality try to their right wing after some more excellent handling through multiple phases. Another outstanding conversion narrowed the gap to 4 points, but Stortford were not content to settle for a narrow lead and 3 minutes later Cullen spotted a gap behind the defensive line and chipped ahead from just outside the DMP 22 and had just enough pace to beat the cover defence to the touchdown. His own conversion took his side into a 28-17 halftime lead.

The home side once again started quickly after the break and, within 5 minutes had narrowed the deficit to 4 with yet another converted try, despite a more error-prone Stortford side having earlier frustrated them by taking a second scrum against the head right on their own line, DMP continued to press and took three points from a penalty some 3 minutes later to bring them within one point of the visitors and pressed on from there. This time they needed a bit of good fortune as a 50:50 crossfield kick bounced back from the initial contest into the arms of the home side’s winger – possibly the shortest player on the field for him to touch down. Another superb conversion from the touchline took DMP into a 6 point lead, but Stortford’s dogged refusal to bow the knee prevented a rampant home side from extending the lead for another 25 minutes. Eventually, though the incisiveness of the home side’s backs was made to tell again with another try out wide, followed by yet touchline conversion to stretch the lead to 13 points. As they have shown in previous matches, Stortford are never short of fight and, with less than 5 minutes to go, they duly launched themselves into the first concerted attack they had been able to muster in the second half. This was duly rewarded, with time almost up, as Rob Duff, came in off his wing to make a decisive break up the middle and found prop, Seb Brownhill in close support to gallop over for a try close to the posts. The conversion was still required to give the visitors the deserved reward of a second bonus point and Cullen held his nerve to do the necessary, triggering a huge reaction from the hundred or so Stortford supporters who had made the long journey north. This was no more than the colossal effort put in by the whole squad over the full 80 minutes deserved, having played their full part in a tremendous game of rugby against a powerful DMP side.

Sat 17th March – Plymouth Albion 17 Bishop’s Stortford 1st XV 10

Stortford battle hard for a deserved losing bonus point against a powerful Plymouth side that hasn’t lost at home for over a year.

n a bitterly cold wind, buffeting across the pitch, conditions did not favour free-flowing rugby but Stortford rightly persisted in trying to move the ball quickly against Plymouth’s powerful side and especially strong pack, though handling errors did inevitably occur. Nevertheless the visitors’ adventure was rewarded after 14 minutes, when Nick Hankin cut an incisive line to take a short pass from George Cullen on halfway and totally wrong-footed the fast and aggressive home defence. The fullback then had the pace to make the tryline in the corner for a 5 point lead. Stortford now enjoyed a period of control, but were unable to make any further breakthrough and a couple of handling errors after 20 minutes allowed Plymouth into the visitors’ 22, where they then camped for a good ten minutes, taking scrum after scrum, as the officials found fault with various aspects of Stortford’s front row play to award a number of penalties. The defence held staunchly for phase after phase of forward drives but, eventually was undone, as the ball was fed to the backs and Plymouth’s outstanding fullback, Matt Shepherd stepped inside to break an uncharacteristically tentative tackle and touch down under the posts to give himself an easy conversion and his side the lead. The home side were soon on the front foot again, taking advantage of a couple of poor Stortford clearance kicks to press into the opposition 22. As snow started to fall, though and with first half time running out, Hankin was able to give winger, Rob Duff a yard of space on the outside, which is all he needed to get outside his opposite number and run clear. Shepherd stood in his way, but Duff stood him up and then accelerated through the attempted tackle to race over in the corner for a fantastic 85 yard try. The conversion attempt again failed, leaving the visitors with a slender 3 point lead at the break.

With skipper, Sam Winter injured and replaced for the second half by debutant, George Keen after a tremendous first half, particularly in defence, the pressure was on the youngster, but he came through the sternest of tests extremely well. An early break by Hankin from a Plymouth kick put his side on the attack and it was the home side’s turn to defend their own line and they appeared to be fortunate, when Mark McCraith was penalised for offside, when he came round a ruck to touch down the ball, which had crossed the try line. With the wind now apparently having swung somewhat to favour the home side, they proceeded to dominate much of the rest of the game in terms both of possession and territory, but were met by continued stout resistance from a doughty Stortford side. After 59 minutes, though a soft penalty awarded in midfield for an obstruction after Plymouth had put in a speculative long grubber kick allowed the latter to put the penalty to touch well inside the Stortford 22, from where their powerful pack eventually managed to drive over for a try, again converted by Shepherd. Four points behind, thanks to the two conversions, the visitors were now put under ever-increasing pressure but, although clearly and understandably tiring, they dug ever deeper and repelled wave after wave of Plymouth attacks. Eventually, though the home side’s efforts were rewarded with a penalty under Stortford’s posts for what was deemed to have been a high tackle and, having already conceded two tries from distance Plymouth took the decision to stretch their lead by kicking the goal with only some 5 minutes left on the clock. A number of Stortford players were looking out on their feet, but the team rallied again and, remarkably, forced their way into the opposition 22 and now it was Plymouth’s turn to demonstrate their own strong rearguard defence. The visitors would not be repelled, though and they forced a number of penalties, taking time several minutes into the red, as they battered away at the Plymouth line. Unfortunately, the game ended in dreadful anti-climax, when yet another penalty was kicked for touch but instead found touch in goal to end the match.

This was another Stortford performance, of which the squad can be proud and it was a shame that a number of the 20 or so supporters who had made the long journey and endured the freezing conditions, had to head off home immediately after the final whistle, in order to try and beat the worsening weather to get safely home and thus were deprived of the opportunity of giving the players the pats on the back they all richly deserved.

Sat 10th March – Esher 17 Bishop’s Stortford 1st XV 28

A revitalised Stortford gain a well-deserved win against an Esher side with a strong home record and every incentive to battle all the way.

Playing into a stiff breeze, Stortford dominated throughout the first half, but struggled to break down a determined Esher defence. With Baxter Wilson and Mark McCraith starting after long injury absences, the visitors seemed to find a new level of intensity and cohesion throughout the side, with Tom Banks and Johnny Neville, back from rather shorter absences also making their presences crucially felt. Another notable feature of the team performance was the great discipline shown in conceding a very small number of penalties, whilst forcing multiple kicks in their own favour. Stortford were well on top at the set scrums, which helped provide territorial dominance, allied with tremendous handling accuracy, allowing the team to run through multiple phases time after time. The first score came from George Cullen’s boot, after 10 minutes, when a testing tactical kick from the flyhalf well into the Esher half was backed up with an excellent team chase, forcing a penalty under the posts. Despite much further Stortford pressure on the home 22, Esher managed to keep their line intact and, as time in the half was running out, the visitors settled for another penalty goal from Cullen – this time a much longer-range effort – after 38 minutes. There was just enough time, though for Stortford to show what their backs can do, as Steve Ball took a clean catch from the restart and set up good ball on his own 22. Banks dummied a kick for touch and switched the ball left, where quick hands in midfield gave the ball to winger, Ryan Hutler, who stepped inside and broke a tackle to burst clear and run some 60 yards to touch down in the corner for an unconverted try and an 11 point halftime lead.

Stortford started the second period where they had left off and this time it was right wing, Rob Duff (on in the first half for an injured Chris Smith) who produced an almost identical break to Hutler’s to burst through for a try – albeit, in this case having left himself only some 15 yards to run in. An excellent conversion by Cullen took his side out to an 18 point lead with about 9 minutes of the half gone. The visitors looked comfortably in control for the next ten minutes, but Esher then showed the threat that they possess in their outside backs, as their right wing beat his opposite number and made some 40 metres down the touchline. His inside pass, well inside the Stortford 22 was taken by a defender, but he was tackled into touch and the Esher pack were not to be denied from the resultant lineout, demonstrating their skill at the driving maul, which we had seen in the reverse fixture. A great conversion from close to touch further narrowed the deficit, which was reduced almost immediately by another five points, when two tremendous offloads by the home team’s centres put their left wing clear for an unconverted try. Stortford proceeded to steady the ship and exerted more pressure on the Esher 22, but it was, nevertheless the home side that scored again after 30 minutes of the half, with a superb solo effort by right wing, Joe Becket. He was admittedly helped when his opposite number went for a death or glory interception right on the Esher line and gave him the initial opening, but he showed tremendous pace to outstrip Stortford’s cover defence to run the length of the field. His flyhalf added an excellent conversion to take the home team to within a point of Stortford, thus changing the whole momentum of the game, as Esher went onto all-out attack. It was Stortford’s turn to show their defensive tenacity and this was rewarded, as the home side became a little too adventurous, when Rory Banks intercepted a speculative long pass just outside Esher’s 22. Three good passes under pressure gave Duff a yard of space, but he was hauled down just short of the line. The ball was quickly recycled, though and fast hands produced an overlap on the opposite wing, which Nick Hankin exploited to dummy his way over close to the posts with 10 or 12 minutes to go, giving Cullen an easy conversion. The two sides were now going at it hammer and tongs, but it was the visitors who now again tended to have the edge and this was made to count, as normal time was running out, when Cullen kicked an excellent penalty from out wide after a breakdown offence. The flyhalf almost rounded off the game with another try, after he took a further interception, but he too was tackled inches short.

This was an impressive win, resulting from a tremendous performance by the whole squad, which will rightly give them new-found confidence to tackle the difficult trips to Plymouth and Darlington.

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