With Stuart Lancaster in the crowd Stour produced one of their best performances of the season to secure a hard-fought bonus point win at Otley.
With perfect conditions for running rugby the opening exchanges saw both sides prepared to run at their opponents, Otley spurning a kickable penalty for a kick to the corner and catch & drive attempt that was comfortably held out by the Stour pack. Stour’s early handling was unsure though, Otley latching onto wayward passes and counter-attacking with Stour centre Joe Heatleyearning himself a 10min rest in the sinbin for a deliberate knock-on. The hosts drew first blood when the Stour scrum was free-kicked for an early engagement, the ball worked quickly wide where Heatley’s absence meant an overlap for winger Toby Harris to score in the corner, 17min 7-0.
Stour continued to press with ball in hand, fullback Rod Petty bundled into touch after one attack reached the Otley 22. Otley cleared but found themselves without flanker James Wood for 10min after he took out Stour scrum half Toby Handley at the base of a ruck. The next Stour attack saw hooker Sam Wilkes brought down just short of the line but a penalty conceded. Otley tried to run from deep but were again penalised by referee Claire Hodnett for not releasing in the tackle, and though his earlier 50m kick at goal had flown just wide, this time outside-half Chris Scott nailed it to claw back 3 points. 29min 7-3.
Though a man short Otley continued to run the ball at Stour, but were to regret it when Stour grabbed the ascendancy with a superb daylight-robbery intercept by winger Josh Trinham who hared 60m downfield to score under the posts. 31min 7-10. Both sides continued to attack ball-in-hand but were denied further scoring attempts by handling errors. Halftime 7-10.
Stour stormed into the second half, barely 2 minutes in a worked loop move put Heatley free down the left touchline, the attack was pressed into Otley’s 22 where he was back in position to receive the scoring pass a couple of phases later as the hosts ran out of defenders. 44min 7-17.
A clearance kick gave Stour field position in the hosts’ midfield, clean off-the-top lineout possession was moved left where winger Ash Elvers came infield to blast through the line and score, his footwork leaving 2 defenders grasping thin air. 47min 7-22.
Otley were getting no change out of the hardworking Stour defence, they started to ring the changes off the subs bench but to little effect. Another Elvers break on the counter saw Otley concede a 5m attacking scrum and Stour set siege to their line. After a series of scrum offences the hosts’ pack was free-kicked and centre James Otutaha bagged the bonus-point try after a tap & run by Handley. 63min 7-27.
Stour came off the boil and Otley’s persistence was rewarded when they hit back with a couple of well-taken late tries for fullback Nick Coupland and replacement Josh Cruise. But they’d left too big a mountain to climb and the game ended as they knocked on trying to run from deep in their 22. Full time 19-27.
Next up is Stour’s final home league fixture of the season against Sale on Apr 16th, ko 3pm.