Town lose out in battle of attrition
By Howard Crompton
With both teams averaging over five tries per game prior to kick off and twenty-four try bonus points between them, a bumper crowd at Old Deer Park was expecting a try fest.
The try fest failed to materialise but the crowd was treated to a highly competitive and combative encounter between two equally determined sides.
For two high scoring teams, this was the story of two rock solid defences. London Welsh deserved to take the spoils because of the huge advantage they had in terms of possession and territory, with the home side having at least 80% of the ball.
Town were forced on the defensive for the vast majority of the match and it was testament to their resilience that they restricted London Welsh to one try in each half.
This was a herculean defensive display by Stevenage as they repelled wave after wave of attack from both close quarter and open play and it is impossible to single out any single individual as every player contributed to the effort.
It was no real surprise that with what little possession came the way of Town, they didn’t look as sharp as London Welsh on the ball as their defensive exploits must have taken its toil in terms of fatigue. That coupled with the fact that they were up against an equally well drilled and capable defence by London Welsh meant that Stevenage failed to score in a match since 26 November 2016.
London Welsh were on the attack straight from the kick off and were an almost constant presence inside the Stevenage twenty-two until they took the lead in the 19th minute. The pressure on the Stevenage try line finally told as the home side moved the ball wide to the right and centre David Gabe threw a dummy and scored out wide.
Town’s best opportunity came three minutes later when the were awarded a penalty after a rare incursion into the London Welsh half. Having had so little possession, they needed to build an attack but instead opted for a kick at goal, which was missed.
The remainder of the second half continued in the same vein with London Welsh pressing and Stevenage holding firm in defence, relieved by a series of excellent clearance kicks from the hand by Jesse Tipene.
Half time came with London Welsh holding a slender 5 – 0 lead.
The second half followed much the same pattern and Town were dealt a serious blow in the 49th minute when the hard working and impressive Phil Pearson was sent to the bin for a ruck offence. Winger Jonathan Williams converted the resultant penalty and London Welsh made the extra man count when they scored their second try in the 56th minute, with Stevenage still down to fourteen. The ball went loose from a Stevenage play in midfield and Williams ran fifty yards to score.
Stevenage came a little more into the match towards the end but were unable to make any inroads into the London Welsh defence.
Whilst it was a disappointment to lose the match, Town will be very pleased with their application and commitment and the fact that their defence held out so well against a constant barrage of London Welsh attacks.
Datchworth’s win against Royston now puts them five points clear of Stevenage in second place, so the encounter between the two teams on 2 March takes on added significance.
Next Saturday, Stevenage entertain Hemel Hempstead from the league above in the semi-final of the Presidents’ Tankard, kick off at 1.00 p.m.
Stevenage Town Team: Michael Wilson, Ryan Clancy, Ian Crompton, Gareth Lewis, Vinnie Kevans, Jesse Tipene, Andrew Malins, Barry Cook (Conor Mitchell 66 mins), Darren Outram (George Turvey 71 mins), Bradley Cook, Scott Quarmby, Phil Pearson, Ben Hodge, Wes Moore (Adam Amos 25 mins) (Wes Moore 64 mins), Alex Banna
Subs not used: None