Stroud 34

Cheltenham 31

STROUD started the new decade with a narrow victory over Cheltenham, maintaining their Western Counties North unbeaten league record.

A blistering start saw Stroud bank four tries inside 30 minutes and lead 26-0, but a monumental second-half response from Cheltenham left the Fromehall Park side hanging on at the death.

Josh Stratton opened the scoring as he burst beyond two tacklers before twisting over the line to open the scoring. 5-0.

Recycled ball allowed Regan Herbert to drive and smuggle the ball to Humphreys to power over by the posts. Hester converted. 12-0.

Another dominant scrum once again allowed Middlemiss to pick and drive, making significant yardage before quick ball freed the backs. Marsh found Leworthy coming off the blindside wing and his well-timed pass fed Hester, who was cutting back against the grain before showing his trademark acceleration to outstrip the defence and score by the posts. Hester converted. 19-0.

Hester showed his considerable footballing skills to control the ball before diving over the line. Hester again converted. 26-0.

Just as it had appeared Stroud had held out with the combination of Kurtis Herbert and Leworthy holding up the Cheltenham winger and exerting more dominance at the scrum yet another penalty was awarded. From the lineout play was spread wide to their left wing, who chipped and chased before gaining the benefit of the decision when touching down in the corner. 26-5.

Rugby is certainly a game of momentum and that score certainly shifted the momentum as straight from the kick-off Cheltenham looked to spread the ball and strong running from their centres took play up to the home 22. More concerted pressure followed before an excellent out the back offload created an overlap, which the Cheltenham backs exploited to score. Try converted. 26-12.

Controlled carries from Leworthy and Middlemiss appeared to have relieved the danger however the clearance kick was charged down and was capitalised on with a try by the posts. Try converted. 26-19.

Starved of possession, Stroud were now up against it and awarded possession back to Cheltenham when the restart failed to travel 10m. From the ensuing scrum, Cheltenham backs attacked right and again made significant ground. Stroud were once again penalised and the resultant penalty took play within 5m of the home line. A well-executed catch and drive saw the opposition pack surge over in the corner. 26-24. Allen replaced Fruin.

Regan Herbert returned to the field and instantly provided the forward momentum Stroud were looking for. A bulldozing carry took play up towards the 22 where Cheltenham infringed. Hester calmly slotted the 3 points to calm some of the nerves. 29-24.

The calmness however was short lived with Cheltenham looking to continue their expansive approach and more excellent handling coupled with a defensive press that was not up to the intensity of the opening 20 minutes heaped the pressure back on the home side. This resulted in their right winger surging over in the corner to tie the scores. The conversion cannoned in off the post to give Cheltenham the lead for the first time. 29-31.

With only minutes to go, Stroud were now firmly behind the 8 ball. The Cheltenham fly-half looked to cleverly kick to the corners and force Stroud back. Leworthy and Hester looked to take play straight back and set up attacking opportunities – Ashenford and Marsh found willing runners in Stratton and Regan Herbert, who made great ground all afternoon. Owen and Middlemiss continued the momentum before Marsh spotted the opportunity out wide. A show and go from Regan Herbert made the half break before good hands from Hester fed Hendry to collect and crash through the final tackler to cross in the corner. 34-31.

Stroud travel to Chipping Sodbury on Saturday.