Match Report
Berkhamsted School 1st XV vs  Stamford
On: Saturday, 12 Nov 2016
Venue: Away

Stamford 19 Berkhamsted 11

This was definitely a game of two halves. For much of the first half, Berkhamsted seemed in total control, but an injury to fly-half Josh Barton effectively meant three changes, as full-back moved to 10, 9 to 15, and a new 9 came off the bench. Thereafter Berkhamsted's play became more disjointed, and the direction, so much a feature of the away side's play, up until this point, almost immediately dissipated. Even so, in many ways it is a game that should not have been lost. Three relatively easy penalties were missed, which, in retrospect would have left Stamford with too much to do.

From the start the Berkhamsted forwards were on top as they went through the phases and varied the point of attack. The game was held up for several minutes early on as the Stamford full-back turned awkwardly and sustained a nasty knee-injury. After 8 minutes of playing time a Berkhamsted scrum 5 metres out and to the left of the posts saw inside centre Ethan Bussell hit the gain-line in front of the posts. When the ball was recycled, fly-half Barton committed the home defence before finding right winger James Lewis with the deftest of chips out wide.

The pressure continued, but when Stamford infringed only a few yards out and only slightly left of the posts, the kick was sliced wide. This seemed but a temporary reprieve when, after fielding a high kick, a defender knocked on under pressure from the chasers and the ball was picked up in an off-side position. Left wing Finlay Cripps Cooley slotted the penalty for an 8-0 lead after 18 mins.

Berkhamsted continued to dominate the territorial exchanges, but with only a few minutes to go before half-time Stamford forced a Berkhamsted scrum close to their own line, from which Barton required lengthy attention in accordance with protocols before being stretchered off. Even so, a mazey run by scrum-half Mark Williams seemed likely to end in certain try, but when the ball was recycled, Berkhamsted were penalised for holding on with the line at their mercy.

On the stroke of half-time a loose Berkhamsted kick was marked in the Stamford 22 from where a fine counter-attack was launched, resulting in a try to the right of the posts. the conversion left the half-time score at 7-8, but with the slope and breeze favouring the home side in the second-half.

Berkhamsted increased their lead early in the second-half after Stamford were penalised for holding on and Cripps slotted the penalty for 7-11, but it was evident that the three positional changes forced on Berkhamsted to accommodate the loss of Barton meant that the away side's game was looking more disjointed and predictable. In particular, Berkhamsted were having trouble clearing their lines and the Stamford forwards' close driving game was looking as if it might prove decisive.

After 10 minutes Stamford scored the crucial try, giving them the lead for the first time in the game, a lead they never lost. A weak clearance gave them a lineout on the right just outside the 22m, from which three or phases of driving play left the B3erkhamsrted defence short-handed in the right corner, the try putting Stamford 12-11 up. Even so, another Stamford indiscretion on the floor gave Berkhamsted an eminently kickable penalty from left of the posts, but the ball faded left.

Much of the second half was now a 'slug-fest', with Stamford keeping it tight and their ball-carriers keeping Berkhamsted on the back foot. The Berkhamsted defence was solid, but they found it difficult to make ground or keep possession. Nonetheless, with 10 mins to go a breakway by the back-row put Stamford under pressure and a hand in the loose gave Berkhamsted another opportunity from only 10m left of the posts to nudge ahead. Again the ball slid wide.

For the last 10 mins Stamford established territorial dominance, and with 2 mins to go sealed victory with a try wide out on the right. A fine conversion gave them a decisive two-score cushion at 19-11, and that is how the game finished.

It was a well-contested game, which, even allowing for Barton's injury, could have gone Berkhamsted's way had they taken greater advantage of their first half dominance or several kickable penalties. Scoreboard pressure is a skill they are having trouble mastering at the moment.

Dick Mowbray