Spartans 19 Stroud 24

THIS was a finely balanced match but Stroud just scraped home thanks to a last minute try-saving Sam Hester tackle, writes Sean Moore.

Spartans started in a lively, confident fashion, taking an early lead with two penalties and a well-worked try in the corner. Kurtis Herbert kicked two penalties to lessen the deficit and the Stroud pack, although initially under some pressure, gradually became more dominant in the scrum, pushing Spartans off their own ball on several occasions. Strong running by Leworthy and Marsh gained valuable ground and this led to a further penalty converted by Herbert, 12-9. Tommy Allan had a great game, both in the tight and in the loose. Following a scrum in the Spartans 22 which led to great driving play by the pack, the ball came out and Leworthy was able to power his way over the line for a converted try, 12-16. Hester and Leworthy both came close to scoring following long, incisive runs.

The second half saw Stroud resume their forward pressure and following a series of drives near the Spartans line, scrum half Joe Hoyle saw an opportunity and threw out a long pass to winger Jordan Phipps. He took this pass well and scuttled over in the corner, 12-21. A further penalty by Herbert made the score 12-24 and Stroud issued a collective sigh of relief but this was short-lived as Stroud pressed the red button when they tried to run the ball out of defence in their own 22. The pass was intercepted and Spartans scored under the posts, 19-24. This lead did not seem quite enough and Stroud were unable to add to their score despite powerful runs by Hester, Phipps and Herbert, all being just thwarted by a keen Spartans defence.

Spartans threw the ball wide and their young back line threatened on several occasions. In the final play their winger beat several defenders in an arcing run which looked certain to end in a try under the posts but a brilliant cover tackle by Sam Hester brought him down and into touch. Game over.

Stroud can be well pleased with their performance; they had to make several changes and everyone stood up to the challenge and retirees Bashford and Higgins nobly gave up their slippers and sudoku to help the team. The leadership of Dan Smith was crucial; he leads by example and encouragement, and all responded well to this.