Saturday, July 20, 2024

Rugby: Much improved Stanford keep it close

Stanford 15 v 17 Ilford

ANOTHER tough test this weekend for Stanford who hosted Ilford Wanderers, who had put 56 points on them last season.

Stanford started the game with intent and determination and really took the game to Ilford with great control. Ilford however are a well prepared side and the two teams made a real spectacle to watch.

Stanford had a slight upper hand and after just four minutes looked to capitalise from the pressure with a penalty. Callum Reid stepped up and was just marginally wide.

Both teams were playing on the edge and were caught encroaching offside which did make the penalty count against both side rise quickly. Stanford again found themselves with a penalty that was convertible. The decision this time was made to kick for touch as the Stanford pack felt they were winning the forwards battle. Ilford’s defence stood firm and repelled the Stanford attack.

Only minutes later Stanford found themselves five metres out from the Ilford line, flanker Gary Burke thought he saw a gap to exploit, again Ilford matched the attack. Tight head prop James Hunter picked up from the back of the ruck but again was stopped inches short.

It appeared that no matter what Stanford tried Ilford matched them in defence. On the 34th minute of the first half Stanford found themselves again with a penalty chance. This time Reid was accurate and Stanford took a 3 point lead.

For the second time in as many weeks the half time whistle was blown and Stanford found themselves in the lead, even if by the smallest of margins.

The 2nd half was set for another nail biter. Ilford started strongly and pushed Stanford back into their own half. Stanford’s defence was a match for Ilford and the home side found themselves on the front foot.

The ball was moved quickly through the hands and found left wing Jamie Evans making a strong run. In support was Aaron Smith who had come off his right wing to finish off the Stanford move but only after he had jinked his way through several Ilford cover tackles and sprinted round and under the posts. Reid stepped up and added the extra 2 points giving Stanford the lead by 10 after 5 minutes of play in the 2nd half.

With Stanford really believing they could take the game to the close now pushed hard. At a ruck just on the 11th minute of the 2nd half the ref had had enough of the persistent offending by both sides and needed to sharpen the players discipline. Open side flanker Dean Barter was deemed to have come off his feet and killed the ball so was shown the first yellow of the game.

Stanford now down to 14 men, Ilford managed to exploit the extra man twice in the space of 6 minutes converting both tries to take a 10 to 14 lead, with still 20 minutes of the 2nd half to play.

Stanford now decided to ring the changes with fresh legs to try get back the lead. Hunter gave way to Matthew Murphy at Tight head prop and Ash Smith playing full back this week gave way to Nick Sheard. Now back to fall strength Stanford thought they had weathered the Ilford on slaughter and dug deep.

It was now time for Ilford to be awarded a penalty in front of the posts which they slotted to edge out a lead by 7 points which meant that Stanford were now just outside losing bonus point territory. To add more pressure on themselves Aaron Payne was quite rightly binned for a late tackle on the Ilford wing so Stanford found themselves once again down to 14 men, with only 15 minutes to go. Although Stanford had been reduced to 14 men, Ilford this time could not find a way past, as Stanford used the ball well and kept Ilford’s possession down to a minimum. Stanford trying to get back on terms brought on Troy Elkes to blindside Flanker for Burke who again had been tireless in his work rate.

Back to full strength with only 5 minutes to go Stanford were still looking for the win and believed they could still produce what was required. Stanford took advantage of the new substitution law when Stephen McWilliams at loose head prop pulled up with a thigh strain, which meant Hunter returned to the field of play.

With only minutes to go Ilford were penalised, Reid stepped up and drilled the ball metres from the Ilford line. Little did Stanford know but the lineout was to be the last play of the match. From the line out Stanford got control and the pack work extremely hard to drive over. On the third phase of play the ball came quickly to the back of the ruck and Murphy picked and drove through two Ilford backs tackles to set the ball down for the 5 points.

The ball was very wide out and was a big ask for Reid, had it gone over Stanford would have earned a well-deserved draw sadly Reid’s kick was just agonisingly short and Ilford took the win by a margin of two points 15 – 17.

Another close game but compared to last year’s result this was a fantastic effort and full praise should go to the Stanford team’s commitment and work.

Next week Stanford travel down the A13 to East London to play Phantoms in the league.

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