NLD v STAFFORDSHIRE
The win at last came at Ilkeston Saturday and much deserved it was too.
24 – 33 was about right and in hindsight with Cumbria disposing of Warwickshire comfortably at 30-13, it shows how close we could have been to topping this group with a more fortunate home game against Cumbria ourselves.
Anyway, it wasn’t to be, but clearly we can all see the potential and if we can get preparation and commitment another couple of notches higher in 2016 then there is no reason why the seniors cannot emulate the Under 20s this season and reach the national plate final.
What was especially pleasing after Saturday’s game was that all 22 players in the squad made the effort to stay for the formalities afterwards, enjoying the hospitality and seeing Ethan Clowes and Peter Logan win their ties as well as Tom Hughes, Ken Archer, Jack Neal and Dan Rowlands winning their county caps.
I missed Christian Prince off that list of caps, so apologies to him and we’ll do the honours first game next season.
The game opened poorly for Staffs with NLD scoring under the posts against wind and slope advantage to Staffs first half after only 4 minutes. The NLD 10 set the score up with a fine break for the left wing to make 2 sidesteps and give the full back an easy conversion. 7-0. The 10 was to prove a difficult player to suppress for the opening 20 minutes as he dominated the game but on 16 minutes Staffs won a lineout and a good driving maul to the NLD 22 set up a ruck from which the ball was passed blind for Tom Hughes to beat 2 men and score on the left. Grant Hallam stepped up to make a fine conversion to level the scores at 7 all.
Staffs were beginning to assert on 30 minutes and another lineout win just on NLD’s 22 and a pass off the top allowed full back Grant Hallam to ghost into the centre to provide an overlap for Dan Rowlands to score a try on the right. Grant then converted to give Staffs the lead for the first time at 7-14.
Staffs continued to press for the reminder of the half but couldn’t find the key to unlock the NLD defence.
Half Time 7-14.
The 2nd half opened with Staffs asleep again. A simple chip ahead in centre field caught the Staffs defence napping and the NLD centre caught the fortuitous bouncing ball and scored unopposed. A good conversion levelled the scores again at 14 all.
Staffs scored their 3rd try on 51 minutes from another lineout win in NLD’s 22. Several rucks near the line then saw Jack Neal crash over for his try in the left corner. The conversion missed but Staffs eased ahead again at 14-19.
From the kick off Staffs were penalised for holding on at the tackle and NLD’s full back kicked the penalty to reduce the lead to 17-19.
On 60 minutes, Staffs were pressing again when a knock on near the NLD line gave the home side the scrum put in. However hooker Dan Clarke won the strike against the head and No.8 Dan Smith picked up at the base and drove over from 5 metres to score his try by the posts. Grant Hallam converted and gave Staffs a 17-26 lead. Not that it lasted long as 7 minutes later poor tackling allowed NLD to score their 3rd try. With the conversion the lead was down to 2 points again at 24-26 with 13 minutes to play.
4 minutes later Staffs were penalised for holding on in the tackle but the long range penalty attempt with the wind fell just short and NLD’s final chance went with it.
On 74 minutes a Staffs clearance kick up field saw the NLD full back return the kick down field but unfortunately for the home side the ball bounced all the way dead in goal and Staffs had a scrum on the NLD 22. A good scrum and a simple crash ball allowed Tom Hughes to score his 2nd try, Staffs 5th try and seal the game with another Grant Hallam conversion. 24-33.
The final few minutes saw NLD camped near the Staffs line but the green wall stood firm and after a knock on captain Chris Rowley kicked the ball off the park to conclude the very competitive game.
Staffs win gave them a 3rd place finish in pool 2 behind winners Cumbria and 2nd placed Warwickshire.
15, Grant Hallam, Longton; 14, Dan Rowlands, Lichfield; 13, Simon Price, Stoke; 12, Tom Hughes, Stoke; 11, Christian Prince; 10, Lee Brogan, Longton; 9, Chris Rowley, Stoke; 1, Kev Birt, Lichfield; 2, Dan Clarke, Lichfield; 3, Danny Poole; 4, Matt Cowley, Lichfield; 5, Joe Thompson, Lichfield; 6, Jack Neal, Burton; 7, Joe Clowes, Longton; 8, Dan Smith, Stafford;
16, Ken Archer, Burton; 17, Tom Williams, Stafford; 18, Carl Williams, Stafford; 19, Peter Logan, Stoke; 20, Will Sant, Stoke; 21, Ethan Clowes, Longton; 22, Rich Fielding, Lichfield;
Thanks to all Staffs players who trained and didn’t get a game and those that did and those that showed the interest but couldn’t play for one reason or another.
It’s been the most effective season for the last 5 years in terms of interest and hopefully we can move forward next season and challenge for a pool win.
WARWICKSHIRE v STAFFORDSHIRE
@ BROADSTREET on Saturday 9th May 2015
Tougher loss at Warwickshire Saturday as the county again succumbed to a 2nd half effort by the home side to record a 36-8 defeat.
The result flattered Warwickshire and if Staffs could have maintained their first half performances, both collectively and individually, the result may have been different. As it is, Staffs go into the 3rd game at Ilkeston against NLD this week knowing they cannot qualify for the knockout stages of this year’s competition. Nevertheless with NLD failing to travel to Cumbria on Saturday, we will have to wait to discover if the game is going ahead this week.
Lichfield fielded 7 players this week and with another 7 from Longton and 2 from Burton, the level 5 representation was strong. Stoke and Burntwood each had one player with the balance made up of 4 Stafford players.
Dean Ainger, Stafford’s 18 year old scrum half had a great debut for the county after he was called up late Friday and the experience gained on Saturday will do him no harm at all. Ronnie Hindle, promising Stafford prop also made his debut coming off the bench for the final 12 minutes and again he will come on for the experience at this level.
The match started promisingly for Staffs when, on 2 minutes, with a free ball, Tom Hughes (Stoke) dropped a goal to give his side the lead for the only tie in the match. 0-3.
Warwickshire had the chance to cancel that out on 4 minutes but the fly half nudged the penalty attempt, for not releasing in the tackle, just wide.
Staffs had a great chance to take the lead again on 14 minutes after winning a penalty for a ruck offence and kicking for a lineout 5 metres from the line, but despite the catch and drive a knock on then allowed the home side to clear.
On 28 minutes, much against the run of play Warwickshire scored their opening try after pressure rucking near the line finally led to the fly half crashing over. He converted his own score and Warwickshire led 7-3.
5 minutes later and Dave MacLean (Longton) made a clean break but another knock on and one on 36 minutes in promising positions cost Staffs the chance to score.
The final scoring chance of the half went to Warwickshire but the fly half’s penalty attempt fell short after Staffs were penalised for holding on in the tackle.
HT – 7-3.
The 2nd half saw Warwickshire’s forwards start to get on top as when they were in promising positions, they managed to score points.
On 47 minutes, a driving maul from a lineout catch on the Staffs 22 saw Staffs forwards powerless to stop the try. The conversion missed. 12-3.
As the final quarter started though, Staffs were under constant pressure and gave up another score on 63 minutes when after conceding penalties close to their line, the scrum half eventually tapped quickly and went over unopposed. The conversion under the posts was simple and Warwickshire were nearly out of sight on 19-3.
However credit to Staffs who scored next on 66 minutes. From the previous kick off Tom Williams (Stafford) retrieved the ball and Staffs forwards maintained momentum towards the home side’s line and worked the ball well for Christian Prince ( Longton) to score in the left corner. Grant Hallam ( Longton) couldn’t convert but at 19-8 Staffs had given n themselves some hope.
However 3 points were yielded on 70 minutes for a scrum offence on the Staffs 22, 22-8 and then with Staffs countering in the 74th minutes, the ball was lost on the Warwickshire 22 and a couple of passes later and pace from the left wing, led to a try under the posts which was converted. 29-8.
It happened again on 77 minutes with Staffs countering after 2 interceptions but then lost the ball at the ruck with home forwards seemingly making no attempt to move from it and quick hands again saw Warwickshire counter and score a converted try. 36-8.
As the clock wound down to the last play, Staffs had a penalty on the Warwickshire 22 and Grant Hallam’s vision saw him cross kick a great ball for Christian Prince to collect and score, but the assistant referee saw an obstruction and the perfectly good score to most viewers eyes was denied.
It had been a frustrating 2nd half, but the spirit in the side had been tremendous and all 22 players gave everything.
Grant Hallam; Dan Rowlands, Rich Fielding, Dave MacLean, Harvey Wootton; Tom Hughes, Dean Ainger;
Kev Birt, Dan Clarke, Ken Archer; Joe Thompson, Matt Cowley; Jack Neal, Max Hughes, Kieran Healey (Capt)
Replacements – all used
Ronnie Hindle, Christian Prince, Will Peach, Tom Williams, George Glenn, Dan Smith, Joe Clowes.
2 Players received their county caps at the formalities.
Max Hughes (Longton) and Dan Smith (Stafford) both completed their 5th game in the championship and received their caps from Staffordshire President Iain Haley.
Finally, this day was the day Warwickshire were honouring the oldest living England Rugby International. Harry Walker was first capped by England in 1947 and was the only ever-present for England in both the 1947 and 1948 Five Nations tournaments, with the other of his nine caps coming against Australia in 1948.
Harry played for the Midlands against the touring Kiwis (at Coundon Road), Wallabies (Villa Park) and Springboks (Highfield Road), made 30 county championship appearances for Warwickshire, and played for the Barbarians.
STAFFORDSHIRE 12 v 20 CUMBRIA
@ STOKE RFC on Saturday 2nd May 2015
Staffs couldn’t secure enough first half points with the wind and slope at Hartwell Lane Saturday and were overhauled in the 2nd half by a spirited Cumbrian squad. Both sides scored 2 tries apiece but 2 penalties and an extra conversion was the difference between the sides.
Staffs lost the toss and it was crucial as they were invited to take advantage of the wind and slope to build a big enough led to defend the elements and gradient in the 2nd half. There was also the constant drizzle to contend with and that made the ball sometimes difficult to handle with Staffs making a number of unforced errors in good positions throughout the first half.
With only 5 minutes on the clock Staffs looked dangerous and a blindside break close to the Cumbria line was thwarted by a knock, but 2 minutes later Staffs did open the scoring with a well taken lineout in the Cumbria 22. A catch by Joe Thompson and a driving maul by the pack allowed George Glenn to touch down for the opening score. Grant Hallam couldn’t add the extras but Staffs led 5-0 early.
Cumbria defended well for the next 20 minutes as Staffs tried to work the angles and create an overlap but were frustrated by the last pass or conceding a penalty.
On 29 minutes Cumbria had a shot at goal following a lineout when Joel Booth was yellow carded for taking the man out in the air. The Cumbria out half’s attempt fell just short though.
Matt Cowley came on at lock and with the clock ticking down to half time, Staffs won a penalty on the Cumbrian 22 as the scrum came up on 37 minutes. Chris Rowley took a quick one and Dan Rowlands saw his chance on the angle, coming off the right wing to take a pass and sprint in under the posts. Grant Hallam converted to extend the Staffs lead to 12-0.
Staffs needed more before the half ended and got the chance 1 minute into added time as another penalty at scrum time gave Grant Hallam the chance to add a penalty but his effort went wide.
Half time 12-0.
It was going to be key to hold the Cumbrians in the 2nd half with strong defence and make life as difficult as it had been for Staffs first half but with only 2 minutes of the 2nd half gone, Cumbria were on the score sheet with a converted try.
From a lineout on the Staffs 22, the Cumbrian pack attempted to create a driving maul, but the Staffs pack drove them back. With all 8 men committed the scrum half went blind, fed a loose forward who powered over in the left corner unchallenged.
The touchline conversion by the fly half was good and reduced the Staffs lead to 12-7.
5 minutes later and Joe Clowes got isolated in the tackle and the Cumbrian 10 kicked a penalty goal from the Staffs 10 metre line with the wind to reduce Staffs lead to 2 points. 12-10.
At this point, Staffs determination and grit and not a little skill enabled them to recycle plenty of ball and make the occasional foray into the Cumbrian half and with the Cumbrian fly half missing penalties on 59 and 65 minutes and in between Staffs defending the line for a 5 minute barrage of rucks, it looked hopeful that Staffs could hang on, but then another penalty on 68 minutes for offside at the ruck allowed a straight forward penalty conversion to ease Cumbria into a 12-13 lead.
Staffs were still trying to probe and look for a weakness but Cumbria’s forwards were forcing the issue with close driving creating ruck after ruck but on 79 minutes the ball shot out the side of a ruck and Kieran Healey kicked ahead twice with the ball reaching the Cumbrian 22 before being collected by the defence. The counter attack was decisive and the outside centre received a pass from the full back outside his own 22 and sprinted past the desperate Staffs last line to score a try by the posts. The conversion was good and that sealed the game for Cumbria at 12-20.
It had been a hard fought encounter in miserable conditions, played in great spirit but Cumbria deserved their win and now play NLD next week.
The Staffs squad must pick themselves up now and get ready for the trip to Broadstreet to meet Warwickshire next Saturday where they must win to have any chance of progressing.
Warwickshire had pipped NLD 23-25 at Mansfield Saturday, so the task facing Staffs is one that the coaches and players should be relishing.
Will all the players, especially those who didn’t make the playing squad yesterday, please confirm availability for training and playing next week to me by email or text as soon as possible, so that we can plan the session? Thank you.
The trip to Broadstreet is awkward for collecting players on a coach, so the current idea is for the northern players to take a mini bus and meet the rest, of the squad travelling by themselves at Broadstreet for 1pm next Saturday. This could change as we develop the plan during the week.
There is one training session this week.
The venue will be communicated shortly.
Thanks go to the whole of the Stoke on Trent Club for their fantastic effort in hosting the game at Hartwell Lane. The preparation, organisation and hospitality was superb. Special thanks to Jeremy Edwards and Suzy for all their work in the background.