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.
BSRFC 2018-2019 Season
Sat 01st September – Bishop’s Stortford 1st XV 23 Darlington Mowden Park 26
A really hard fought match, with the scores seesawing throughout an action-packed second half just edged by last season’s league runners up.
In this opening game, sponsored by Tees in glorious sunny weather, both sides looked to play expansive rugby, with Stortford enjoying a decided edge over their illustrious opposition during the first half, despite losing scrumhalf, Alex Patton to injury with less than quarter of an hour gone, with Jimmy Rea moving in off the wing to take his place. Two or three times, the home side came close to scoring with some impressive, offloading rugby by both forwards and backs, but a crucial, last supporting player was missing, or a small mistake was made to snuff out the opportunities. Darlington also threatened occasionally but, once again mistakes were made and, despite the adventure and considerable skill shown by both sides, the scoreboard at halftime remained blank.
The second half was a very different affair, with DMP scoring a converted try after 3 minutes, when a mix up at the back of a sound Stortford defensive scrum was ruthlessly exploited by a series of powerful forward drives from the visitors, allowing hooker, Ralph Appleby finally to crash over the line, with Warren Seals converting. Stortford went straight back onto the attack from the restart and were awarded a penalty for a deliberate knock-on, which George Cullen converted. Within a minute, the home side was 3 points ahead through a penalty try awarded for a dangerous tackle, as Rob Duff touched down out wide, following an excellent break in midfield by James Apperley. The lead was widened to 6 points three minutes later, when Cullen registered another three points after two excellent tactical kicks by Tom Coleman and an excellent chase of the second had put pressure on the DMP defence to force a penalty at the breakdown. The visitors were not to be denied, though and took a one point lead on 54 minutes with a converted try from Seals, when advantage was being played for Stortford having needlessly pulled down a driving maul some 15 metres from their line. The flyhalf put in a clever chip kick inside the opposition 22 and followed up to field a tap back from one of his team mates to touch down by the posts, giving himself an easy conversion. Undaunted, Stortford battled back, forcing another breakdown penalty 6 minutes later and Cullen’s 3rd successful goal restored a 2 point lead. The game seemed to be over after 70 minutes, however, when the visitors scored the second of two tries in quick succession through Chris McTurk and Christian Georgiou, as their backs showed their pace in exploiting some tired looking tackling. The first resulted from some quick interpassing and the second came, when a threequarter cleverly spotted two Stortford forwards defending alongside each other in midfield and stood them up before bursting between the two to set up a supporting winger for the touchdown. Stortford showed great character, though to fight back again and some more good interplay by forwards in midfield led to an excellent try out wide to Rob Duff, well converted by Cullen after 77 minutes. This set up a nail-biting last few minutes, with Stortford on the front foot again. Another penalty was won in midfield and, spurning another possible 3 points for the draw, Tom Coleman put a pinpoint kick close to the DMP line. Stortford won the resultant lineout and launched a drive at the line, but were deemed to have gone over the ball, as a visiting player pulled back from contact, causing a home forward to fall forward. The resultant tap and punt to touch ended the game to give last season’s league runners up a narrow win, which could easily have gone Stortford’s way.
Stortford’s supporters will have been impressed by the performance put up by the whole team against many people’s favourites for this season’s title and the man of the match award could have gone to anyone of a number of players, but the BIT Solutions’ award went to Charlie Kingham, making a rousing return to the team after his stint at Loughborough.
Fri 24th August – Bishop’s Stortford 1st XV 10 Bedford Blues 48
A really gutsy performance by Stortford against heavy physical odds, with Bedford clearly determined to bounce back with their strongest team from a heavy defeat last week to Saracens.
Up against a massive Bedford pack, Stortford struggled for possession throughout the first half but showed massive commitment and no lack of skill in a battling defensive performance. The defence was breached after 6 minutes, when a midfield penalty to the home side was brilliantly kicked by flyhalf, Will Hooley for a 5 metre lineout. Stortford managed to hold a couple of forward drives – an achievement in itself against such a huge pack – but, having sucked in the defence through a couple of midfield thrusts, a pinpoint crosskick by Hooley found his right winger, who merely had to catch and flop over for an unconverted try. Within three minutes, though the visitors levelled the scores with an incisive backs move, as George Cullen made a half break to feed Sam Winter, who charged forward and gave Rob Duff just enough room to barge over through his opposite number’s tackle to score out wide. That was pretty much it as far as possession for the visitors was concerned for the rest of the half. They struggled to win the ball even on their own ball at both lineout and scrum and conceded a string of penalties at the latter. Two such at successive Stortford put-ins took Bedford into the opposition 22 and a quick tap saw their no. 8 over for a converted try near to the posts after 19 minutes. The visitors’ travails at the scrum produced a final warning to the front row and, with 28 minutes, Dec Caulfield’s first involvement, after replacing Sam James at hooker was to receive the team sanction and get an immediate 10 minutes’ rest. Further tries to Bedford duly followed on 33 and 40 minutes, the latter going to a promising debutant, named Ben Foden! The conversion of the second score took the halftime scoreline to 31-5.
Halftime substitutions seemed to work out in Stortford’s favour, with a couple of Bedford giants being replaced, resulting in a much more even spread of possession for the second period. The visitors started strongly but were unlucky to lose Johnny Neville very early on to a potentially serious head injury. Our best wishes go to Johnny for a speedy recovery. After a long delay while the injury was dealt with, George Keen returned to continue what was an impressive performance in the centre. Despite then running through many phases of 15-man rugby, Stortford found the home defence was also very strong. Eventually, a couple of crucial handling errors produced a turnover in midfield and a great line run by the home fullback saw him burst through the first line of defence and he had the skill and pace to beat two covering defenders to make the line for another converted try after 12 minutes. Eight minutes later the home backs again showed their class with an excellent grubber kick by a centre being fielded by their flying left winger and, despite a great cover tackle from Tom Walker, the ball was recycled quickly for a try in the corner to Tom Hitchcock – one of Stortford’s Colts last season, who appeared for our Blues the previous night against Hertford! Five minutes later, it was Walker’s turn to register a well-deserved try for last season’s Colts, when he took a perfectly-timed pass from Jimmy Rea to round off a period of sustained pressure, which even Bedford’s well-organised defence could not counter. The home side, though had the final word, when James Lennon (on as a second half replacement for Lee Dickson), who appeared a number of times for Stortford last season on loan from Bedford’s Academy, showed his pace to round off some sharp passing by his threequarters with an unconverted try out wide.
BSRFC 2017-18 season
Sat 28th April – Bishop’s Stortford 1st XV 28 Caldy 18
Stortford show great determination after two disappointing results to come out clearly on top in this tussle away to fellow National 1 newcomers, Caldy.
Playing up the slight slope and into the breeze, Stortford started well and took advantage of a couple of Caldy handling errors to launch an incisive attack. The ball was first moved left, where winger, Chris Smith was able to make good ground and, when he was stopped, the ball was moved quickly to the right, where Johnny Neville was able to crash through the stretched defence for an unconverted try after only 3 minutes. Both sides, however found it difficult to establish any clear rhythm, as the referee was reluctant to allow opportunities for advantage to accrue, producing a long period of stop-start rugby. The next score went to the home side from a penalty under the posts after 12 minutes and another 3 points were added in like fashion 16 minutes later to take Caldy into a 1 point lead. This proved to be short-lived, though when, 4 minutes later, Sam Winter took a short pass in midfield, just inside the Caldy half to break the first tackle and then use the abundant support outside to dummy his way over the line for a try, which was well converted from out wide by George Cullen. Caldy battled back, though, snuffing out a threatening Stortford attack down the right to win a penalty and drive their way into the visitors’ 22, where they launched a series of powerful drives at the try line. Showing great collective determination, Stortford held out strongly and, when a Caldy drive was held up, Tom McCrone ripped the ball free for a crucial turnover to see his side into the break 12-6 up.
Stortford again started the second period strongly and were rewarded with a penalty goal kicked by Cullen from under the posts after 6 minutes. The home side, though flew straight back onto the attack and brought themselves within 2 points, when their no. 9 sold a dummy to a couple of Stortford defenders inside their own 22 to dash over for a well-converted try. The lead was extended 4 minutes later with another Cullen penalty goal and the medicine was repeated a further 5 minutes afterwards, when Caldy were penalized at a scrum. The probably decisive score, though came after 35 minutes of the half, when yet another penalty out wide was kicked to touch. Although the resultant line out drive was halted well by the home side, a secondary thrust by Sean Edwards put the defence on the back foot and quick ball down the line was enough to give Jimmy Rea a clear run in for a try, brilliantly converted from the touchline by Cullen. A Stortford handling error from the restart, though put Caldy onto the front foot and it was their turn to win a penalty, which in their case, had to go to touch. Stortford were equally successful in halting the immediate driving maul but, at the expense of a scrum. Although seemingly under pressure, the home side were allowed to reset the scrum, at which they were awarded a penalty under the Stortford posts. In a throwback to former years, the penalty was tapped and what looked suspiciously like a flying wedge was set up, which Stortford were unable to prevent being driven over the line and a try was awarded. Surprisingly, the conversion was missed but, undaunted, Caldy flew back onto the attack and, benefiting from a harsh penalty award for a supposed late tackle, they once again went through the line out, scrum, penalty sequence to launch another flying wedge at the Stortford line. This time, though the defence was ready and the drive was halted, with the final whistle going after the visitors had won a scrum.
This was a tremendous display of committed, team rugby by the whole Stortford squad, providing an appropriately upbeat end to a tremendous first season at level 3. It was particularly good to see Dan Leo back to his rampaging best of earlier in the season, which hopefully augurs well for his return next season! It is to be hoped that he will be joined there by younger stalwarts like Steve Ball, Matt Tomlinson and Jimmy Rea – not to mention “super-sub”, Tom Coleman!
Sat 21st April – Bishop’s Stortford 1st XV 27 Cambridge 33
Stortford come up disappointingly short in a hard-fought derby game.
Whether a big and, initially noisy home crowd caused a level of nervousness in the Stortford side, only the players will know but, what was clear was that the home team started extremely slowly, failing to put any phases together and kicking away decent ball far too readily. This allowed the visitors to monopolize early possession and to work their way into a good, attacking rhythm, which they took full advantage of, scoring tries after 7 and 11 minutes through their fullback and open side flanker, with fly half, Ben Penfold converting the first for a 12-0 lead. At this stage, Stortford started to compete much better on both sides of the ball and totally dominated the rest of the half. It could be argued that they were unlucky to have three tries ruled out – 2 considered to have been held up over the line and 1 for a knock-on, which appeared to happen after the ball had been touched down. Had the home side been able, though to make more clear cut chances, as Cambridge had done, they would not have depended on marginal decisions but they were unable to make clear breaches through the highly committed Cambridge defence. Eventually, though the pressure told when, after 37 minutes Matt Tomlinson crashed over under the posts after a series of powerful drives from the Stortford forwards and this time there was no doubt whatsoever about the touchdown. Cullen converted , as he did 3 minutes later, when Nick Hankin sliced open the visitors’ defence for the first time, after good use was made of a turnover well inside the Cambridge half, with Sean Edwards driving forward and offloading to his fullback, who did the rest. A narrow, 2 point lead, therefore to Stortford at the break.
Stortford picked up, where they had left off after the break and Cullen added three points to his and his team’s tally after 8 minutes, when the visitors were penalized at a scrum. The advantage was short-lived, however , when Cambridge scrumhalf, Cameron Keenan anticipated a short inside pass in Stortford’s midfield to take a clean interception and scoot in untouched under the posts, giving Ben Penfold an easy conversion. The home side fought back and, despite having missed an easier shot at goal only a few minutes earlier, Cullen kicked another penalty from distance after 20 minutes of the half to nudge his side back into a one point lead. This situation, though again did not last long, with Cambridge capitalising ruthlessly on a sloppy handling error in midfield, compounded by a badly missed tackle to allow No 8, Jake McCloud to burst over under the posts after only 2 minutes. The game was effectively ended as a contest 7 minutes later, when centre, Matt Hema took a sharp inside pass to crash over through a double tackle by Stortford forwards for another converted try to take his side out into a 13 point lead. Although Stortford rallied again, it was too little too late, as Hankin made an excellent break and, when he was hauled down just short of the try line, the ball was quickly recycled for James Apperley to touch down on the left wing. Cullen made the difficult conversion to win a losing bonus point which, was a fair reflection of the overall balance of play, with the visitors seeming to have had a slight edge in aggression on both attack and defence.
Sat 14th April – Bishop’s Stortford 1st XV 14 Loughborough Students 32
Stortford are outfought and outplayed by a Loughborough side, boosted by the inclusion of several Leicester Tigers Academy players but, on the day superior in almost every department of the game.
In perfect, dry conditions, on Loughborough’s 4G pitch, both sides started looking to play, quick, expansive rugby and, although the home team probably enjoyed a slight edge in the early exchanges, it was Stortford that opened the scoring, when Will Roberts reached through a ruck of players to place the ball on the line after 6 minutes. The position had been created through a well-drilled line out, producing quick ball off the top, from which Sam Winter hit a flat pass to crash through the first line of defence. George Cullen converted well, but the good work was immediately undone, when Loughborough were allowed to take clean ball from their restart kick and drove through to score a very similar try to Stortford’s with barely 2 more minutes elapsed. The conversion attempt went wide, as it did 17 minutes later, following a good backs’ try to the home side, when a pinpoint crossfield kick/pass was taken cleanly by the right wing in space, who made ground down the flank before finding support inside. The rest of the half passed with much endeavour on both sides, but, with Loughborough’s pack having a clear edge in the scrums, they once again looked the slightly more threatening.
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 fly half, 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.
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.