Bourne let half-time lead slip against high-flyers
Stamford recorded their sixth successive bonus point victory with a hard-fought 34-14 win over Bourne in Saturday’s Midlands 3 East (South) derby duel.
Bourne – who were hoping to turn their fortunes round at the start of the New Year – led at the interval, but second-placed Stamford played with far more purpose and direction after the break to close the gap to six points on league leaders Northampton Casuals who suffered defeat at Stockwood Park on Saturday.
Stamford looked a bit rusty after a two week break while Bourne, despite a number of injuries, were able to field a strong side as they looked to avenge the 52-19 drumming they had received from their neighbours at the beginning of the season.
The game looked to have started well for Bourne when, despite having the kick-off, they took possession in the opening seconds.
After some good work at the breakdown the ball was shipped wide through the backs. Despite the intervention of the Stamford defence at the far side of the field the ball was quickly recycled and fed to fly-half Dave Maudsley who made yards through a narrow blindside channel.
As he met the Stamford winger Maudsley chipped the ball before gathering it and rounding the last of the Stamford defence.
The Stamford cover defence was ready though and Maudsley was eventually brought down just inches short of the try line.
With the Stamford defence in disarray Bourne shipped the ball the other way but a handling error brought to their attack to an unfortunate end.
Bourne's start set the tone for the first 20 minutes and they didn't let up, keeping Stamford pinned to their 22 for the entirety.
Stamford did get their hands on the ball and looked threatening, but the Bourne defence - unlike the first meeting of the two sides - was resolute.
As Stamford attacked, Bourne continued to make their tackles, not just stopping their opponents but often knocking them backwards.
Stamford though made the breakthrough after 25 minutes when Rees Burns broke clear for a sprint up the pitch where he drew the visiting defence.
Bourne full-back Jack Berry stopped Rees just short of the try line, but the Stamford support runners found themselves in a better position than the visiting cover defence as it scrambled back and Toby Anderson was in support to run in the try.
In previous games Bourne might have been content to get to half-time just five points behind a side sitting near the top of the league but they are becoming more and more resilient.
And, following the restart, Town suffered a setback when Jack Jones was sent to the sin-bin following an illegal tackle.
The guests then put Stamford under pressure again and soon had possession of the ball. The Bourne pack was superb in open play and equal to their opposition at the setpieces allowing their side to build a platform from which to attack.
From a scrum just 10 metres from the Stamford try-line, Bourne number eight Adam Binns picked the ball from the base of the scrum and headed to the blindside before feeding scrum-half JJ Roberts.
Roberts then fed Maudsley who had run from the open side and provided some quick hands to get the ball to winger Rob Bentley who finished with a strong dive into the corner.
The reliable Sam Evison added the touchline conversion and Bourne had a deserved 7-5 lead at half-time.
Following a half-time sort out by Stamford head coach Matt Albinson, it wasn't long before Bourne conceded the advantage and it was to be the last time they would have the lead in the match.
The early pressure resulted in a line-out from which Mike Kendall broke the Bourne defence to score a try which Burns converted.
Continued good play led to another try minutes later when Burns raced over to score which he also converted for the extra points to give Town a 19-7 lead.
The Stamford backs were exploiting the gaps out wide once their pack had done the hard work infield and, as Bourne started to adapt and plug the gaps on the outside, the hosts changed their ploy and scored another two tries through the middle, leaving the visitors clutching at straws.
A good handling move allowed Oli Winspear to round the Bourne defence and score in the corner for the fourth and bonus point try.
Stamford then used their possession well and James O’Shea, in his first match following an injury and making a rare appearance in the back row, broke free from the halfway line for a try which he celebrated in his usual understated way.
The game moved into its closing stages and it was fitting that the final Stamford try came from one of the unsung heroes when Jon Murphy crashed over out wide.
It was to Bourne's credit that throughout the second half they had continued to attack well with the ball in hand.
Maudsley was lively at fly-half and made good yards with a number of breaks before linking with his forwards and his pack continued some of the good form they have shown this season.
Prop Jake Appleby and second-row pairing Sam Harby and Keir Moore carried well and hooker Harry Thornburn was heavily involved by often providing an extra man in the Bourne back-line.
Bourne finally regrouped in defence and made a decent fist of the final quarter of an hour.
With more ball they played as they had in the first half and were camped in the Stamford 22 where they created a number of opportunities to add points.
But, with a number of handling errors, they were unable to execute and looked to be finishing scoreless in the second half.
Awarded a penalty on the Stamford five-metre line with the last play of the game, Maudsley took it quickly before kicking across the pitch to inside-centre Evison who, realising he would quickly be under pressure, passed to wing Jamie Colangelo.
Colangelo looked to have taken the wrong option when he cut infield rather than simply going round his man but, by beating several Stamford defenders on his way to score under the posts, he certainly made his try look more spectacular. Evison finished the game with the extras.
Stamford now travel to fourth-placed Daventry on Saturday and know that if they want this run to continue they will have to be at their best for 80 minutes in both attack and defence to stamp their authority on the game.
Bottom-of-the-table Bourne face a crucial clash at home to 10th—placed Biggleswade and player-coach Maudsley believes better preparation will be the key to his side beating the drop.
He said: “Our preparation isn't good enough and that showed in the second half on Saturday.
“Half our side hadn't touched a rugby ball for at least two weeks and, if we continue in that vein, this is the result we'll get week in, week out.
“There's no doubt we're a decent side and we were well worthy of leading at half-time, but that means nothing if we fall away in the second half.
"If we can play against second in the league as well as we did for 40 minutes we have to set out and do that for 80 minutes.
“And if we can run sides like that close we have to believe there are a number of sides we can beat convincingly.
“People keep saying we don't play like a bottom of the league side but unfortunately that's where we are.
“We had a tough start to Midlands 3 and have an uphill battle in front of us but, if we prepare well, I still believe we can avoid relegation.”
Stamford: James Green, Sam Hillary, Benedict Murphy, John Murphy, Oliver Winspear, Jack Jones, Michael Kendall, Gareth Ramsden, Robert Smith, Oliver Johnson, Joe McDonnell, Martin Bagnall, Toby Anderson, Max Hunter, Rees Burns. Reps: Alasdair Ager, James O’Shea, Austin Schwarz.
Bourne: Jake Appleby, Harry Thornburn, Chris Greenwood, Sam Harby, Keir Moore, Sion Williams, Ben Keast, Adam Binns, JJ Roberts, Sam Evison, Rob Bentley, Dave Maudsley, Jack Berry, Jamie Colangelo, Josh Lynch. Reps: Paul Mabey, Anthony Hilliam-Cooke, Charlie Short.