Narrow defeat at Stockwood Park
Midlands 3 East (South)
Stockwood Park 17
A spirited second-half revival against the strong wind and slope with only 14 men was not enough to overhaul the points conceded in a sloppy first hour.
With nine of the first-team squad unavailable it was not surprising that the reshaped side, with two debutants and others playing out of position, lacked any cohesion and this being the first game for a month Saints were initially well off the pace.
Saints’ plan to use the conditions to build up a first half lead was disrupted after only three minutes when Stockwood capitalised on a handling error to create a try.
Their fly half spotted a gap behind the defence and his kick rolled perfectly for the winger to collect and score. A similar testing kick from Jamie Clynes seemed to have put Jason Warren clear, but the bounce of the ball this time was less obliging and the danger was temporarily cleared. Clynes then landed a neat drop goal but Saints still struggled to achieve any continuity and another breakdown gave Stockwood theopportunity to counter. Unfortunately a blatant knock on went unnoticed and as Saint’s defenders naively paused the home side broke clear for a try under the posts.
Ryan Taylor’s first shot at goal hit an upright and rebounded into the arms of a defender but his second was on target for a 12-6 half time deficit.
As expected, the home immediately made full use of the conditions to pin Saints in their own 22. A literally uphill struggle was then made even more difficult when Fraser Caithness was dismissed on 50 minutes when he reacted to an obvious stamping. The original culprit escaped any sanction and from the penalty the Park forwards charged for the line. Despite the ball carrier clearly being held up short the referee decided that, under a mass of bodies, the ball had been grounded.
Suitably incensed by what they saw as a double injustice Saints responded vigorously and played their best rugby of the game. Stockwood defended well, still aided by unforced errors by Saints. Both Kallum Goodfellow and Jason Warren were hauled down agonisingly short and yet another unkind bounce deprived them of a score.
The Park were clearly rattled and their frustration at their inability to make the most of conditions and the extra man culminated in the dismissal of their prop for punching. Saints still could not break the deadlock but as the pressure built up in the closing minutes Stockwood’s second prop was red carded for a totally unprovoked forearm smash and that effectively ended the game.
Saints should draw some positives from this game. Their improvement in the second half against all the odds was impressive and with a modicum of good fortune could have turned the game. The returning Gary Curtis carried strongly and debutant winger Jacob Seal, one of three teenagers in the side, did everything asked of him in defence and attack.
Saints will need to reprise the better parts of this game for 80 minutes if they are to succeed at Saint Ives this week. Saints won the home fixture very comfortably but the newly promoted Cambridgeshre side have improved considerably since then and the Chicken Shack has proved to be a difficult venue for a number of Championship hopefuls already this season.