Town land Presidents' Tankard
By Howard Crompton
Having lost the previous two Presidents’ Tankard finals, Stevenage were determined to make this a successful third final appearance in as many years.
And they didn’t disappoint as they despatched a physically strong Welwyn side.
The key to this victory was an outstanding first half performance during which Town scored three tries and their ferocious tackling ensured that Welwyn hardly got out of their own half in the first period.
The second half was rather more even as Welwyn made good use the strengthening wind, however they had no answer to the guile of Stevenage fly half Dane Edge, who possibly had his best kicking game of the season both from the tee and out of hand, and the pace of Ian Crompton.
This was an excellent all round team performance by Stevenage. The front row of the Bamber brothers, Neil and David and Rory McGrath, joined later by Darren Outram gave a solid platform against a big Welwyn pack ensuring that scrum half Drew Malins had a plentiful supply of good ball with which to unleash the backs.
Stevenage were out of the blocks right from the start and very early on signalled their intent with an incisive run by Gareth Lewis, which was thwarted just short of the try line.
It didn’t take much longer for Stevenage to open the scoring in the 9th minute with a try by Adam Amos, finally driving over the line after a couple of drives off the ruck had been successfully defended by Welwyn. Edge added the conversion.
Town kept the pressure on Welwyn and four minutes later David Bamber extended the lead when he completed a move wide on the right set up by another run by Lewis and a final pass by Edge. Edge added a difficult conversion from the touch line.
Welwyn were pegged back in their own for most of the half. Attempts to run the ball out of defence were repelled by relentless pressing and tackling by Stevenage, led by captain Scott Quarmby and his back row partners, Phil Pearson and Heiko van Zwieten. When Welwyn opted to kick, full back Sean Penny and wingers Michael Wilson and Joseph Thomas were sound under the high ball and were able to launch counter-attacks to put the pressure back on the Welwyn defence.
Despite being under the cosh, Welwyn did well to keep their discipline and they only conceded one penalty in the first half, which Edge converted in the 24th minute to give Town a lead of 17 – 0.
Town’s third try came in the 30th minute. David Bamber set up the move with a charging run and then Edge and Crompton combined for Crompton to find Lewis on his inside to finish off a brilliantly executed try. Edge again added the conversion and Town were in the lead at 24 – 0.
Welwyn rallied towards the end of the half and finished it strongly. Their first attack came in the 36th minute, set up by captain Phil Grehan, which Stevenage did well to defend. Unfortunately, the move ended with an injury to influential prop, Will Freeston, who was unable to play any further part in the match.
It was Stevenage under pressure in the closing minutes of the half but they held out and went into the interval with a lead of 24 – 0, and in the knowledge that they had to play into the wind in the second half, which was gathering strength.
Stevenage lost second row Richard Penny in the 46th minute through injury, who up to that point had shown again his effectiveness in the engine room with Amos and who had also been prevalent at the break down.
It was Welwyn who struck first in the second half to keep the match alive. In the 47th minute from a scrum close to the Stevenage line, No 8 Rob Picken picked up and the ball made its way to Dan Ashcroft wide on the left wing via scrum half Adam Harcourt to score. Harry Di-Lieto kicked a fine conversion from the touch line.
Welwyn had several opportunities to pull back the deficit but the Stevenage defence was in no mood to be breached again and they showed determination and skill to frustrate Welwyn’s attempts to get back into the match.
Any nerves that Town and their supporters may have had were eased when Lewis scored his second try in the 60th minute. Stevenage patiently made their way into the Welwyn twenty-two through several phases and then from a scrum twenty metres from the Welwyn try line, the Welwyn defence was dragged to the Stevenage right, only for Malins to switch the ball left to Lewis, who spotted the gap and rounded off another fine try.
In the 64th minute, Wes Moore came on for his first outing since 28 January and he showed he had lost little of his defensive abilities as he was quickly into the fray.
Stevenage were able to keep up the momentum with more charging runs from Conor Mitchell, Amos and some deft handling in the backs.
The match and the trophy was sealed in the 76th minute with a 26th try of the season for Ian Crompton, finishing off a move started by Amos giving Crompton the space to jink through to score under the posts. Edge scored his fourth conversion of the afternoon.
Despite an unassailable lead, Town kept on the attack and nearly scored again with the last play of the match with a thirty metre run by Alex Banna, who was finally stopped just short of the line.
After two previous final defeats, this was a well deserved victory for Town wrapping up a successful season, which saw them finish in third place in the league as well as winning the Hertfordshire Presidents’ Tankard.
Coach Terry Penny was understandably delighted with his team’s performance in this match and the season, which saw them play an attacking style of rugby, rewarded with 119 tries in their 23 matches.
Stevenage Town Team: Sean Penny, Joseph Thomas, Ian Crompton, Gareth Lewis, Michael Wilson, Dane Edge, Drew Malins, Neil Bamber (Darren Outram 51 mins) (Neil Bamber 55 mins), Rory McGrath, David Bamber Darren Outram 66 mins), Richard Penny (Conor Mitchell 46 mins), Adam Amos, Phil Pearson (Alex Banna 55 mins), Heiko van Zwieten (Wes Moore 64 mins), Scott Quarmby
Subs not used: None
Tries: Adam Amos
Gareth Lewis (2)
Conversions: Dane Edge (4)
Penalties Dane Edge