Matson 10 Stroud 13

STORM DENNIS failed to knock Stroud’s title ambitions off course in a tense encounter at Matson, writes Mark Samak. 

Stroud played up the slope in the first half but did have the benefit of the wind and rain at their backs. A low driven kick-off from Kurtis Herbert immediately forced Matson back into their own 22 however they managed to secure the ball and patiently work through several tight phases. Fruin, Stratton and Hunt led the defensive effort with the line speed and intensity of Stroud stopping Matson making any significant gains. Marsh and Gordon were also getting through some early defensive work at Matson controlled the initial phases.

Smith, Fruin and Allen set a solid platform in the scrum, providing Hoyle with secure ball and also giving the opportunity for Hendry to pick from the base.

The powerful Number 8 however was well marshalled by the Matson defence, but Stroud were beginning to work through their phases with Regan Herbert as ever giving Stroud some momentum with a series of strong carries. Hester found touch after Matson had transgressed at the breakdown and gave Stroud their first real attacking opportunity. The Smith – Stephens link was working well at the lineout despite the conditions and a clean take set Stroud off on a driving maul. Matson repelled the drive illegally giving Kurtis Herbert the opportunity for to kick a well struck penalty, giving Stroud the lead. 0-3.

Stephens collected another driven restart safely and allowed Hoyle to again orchestrate the forward carries. Hendry and Regan Herbert were as ever at the heart of the carrying but they were ably supported by Smith, Stratton and Leworthy, who was coming in off his wing to get through his share of work.

To their credit, Stroud did not just opt for a tight game and superb hands from Marsh and Gordon gave Sykes the room he needed to evade his opposite number. Surging into the 22, he drew the Full Back however the final pass did not go to hand.

Stroud were immediately back on the attack with Hester confidently fielding a clearance kick and somehow keeping his footing on the quagmire to weave past several tacklers. Good clear out work allowed Hunt and Marsh to carry on the momentum. Stroud made their way into the Matson 22 but were unable to make the territory count as the ball was lost in contact. Matson again cleared and indeed pressured Smith’s throw to Stephens at the subsequent lineout. Pouring through, they hacked the ball on, but it was well collected by Leworthy, who tucked the ball under his arm and took play directly back at the opposition. One immense hand-off and a huge gap in the Matson defence allowed the winger to power through and race in from 50m for a fine individual score. Kurtis Herbert converted. 0-10.

Sticking to their game plan, Stroud continued to carry close in with secure ball handling defying the conditions. Leworthy again made good ground after collecting a loose pass before Marsh opted for route one from the fly-half position and carried well. Excellent work in contact and on the ground forced Matson to concede another penalty, which Kurtis Herbert calmly slotted from in front of the posts. 0-13.

Matson as expected did not lie down and combative work from their backrow at the breakdown soon forced a penalty. Kicking to the corner, the ever-reliable Matson line-out secured possession and drove towards the line. Great disruption from Allen, Stratton and Hunt slowed the drive down before Fruin bravely took down the breaking forward. Matson however recycled well and drove over from close range by the posts. Try converted. 7-13.

Matson dominated the opening 10 minutes of the second half and looked to use the momentum they had generated from their first half score. Their half-backs looked to use the wind and pinned Stroud down into their 22. Leworthy and Hester were secure in their defensive work, but Stroud struggled to get out of their own half. The Matson line-out continued to function efficiently and gave them the base to set up a few attacking phases. Stroud’s defence was solid with Fruin, Stephens and Hunt to the fore while Gordon and Kurtis Herbert were secure in wider channels. Patient work from Matson looked to have given them an opening but a last-ditch tackle from Hunt just forced the winger into touch before he touched down. Stroud however were penalised for offside and allowed the Matson kicker to easily slot three points to reduce the deficit. 10-13.

Matson continued to dominate but a few crucial turnovers allowed Stroud to relieve the pressure. Pressure in the tackle allowed Hendry to secure loose ball and set off up the left wing before offloading to Regan Herbert. Hoyle continued the attack with a strong run from the ruck. This combination had taken play 40m up field but at a cost - a head injury would mean Herbert would take no further part in the game (replaced by Davies).

Stroud’s kick chase was excellent all afternoon and great pressure from Hunt allowed Hester to hack up field and show his footballing skills. A final unfriendly bounce looked to have taken the opportunity away but great scavenging by Hendry secured possession. Pick and drives took play within sight of the line and it looked as though Allen had crossed the whitewash only for the referee to have adjudged the ball was held up. An injury to Allen forced him to leave the field for treatment, which caused disruption to the Stroud scrum that Matson exploited to clear their lines and keep them in the game. (Voyce replaced Allen.)

Matson used this advantage in the scrum to gain another penalty and pushed play back up into the Stroud half. Davies and Voyce were immediately heavily involved and tackled well in the close quarters. Kurtis Herbert and Sykes combined well in defence to snuff out attacks when Matson did attempt to spread the ball wider. Smith continued to lead by example despite several heavy knocks as Stroud looked to arrest the Matson momentum. He along with Leworthy and Hendry was getting through a huge amount of carries. (Ashenford replaced Hoyle).

With only minutes to go, Matson continued to press but Stroud’s defence remained resolute and eventually forced a knock on in contact. Allen returned to the field in place of Davies. The crucial scrummage was secured and Hendry picked and drove from the base. No risk rugby was now required to see the game out and pick and drives from Smith, Fruin and Stratton controlled the ball before Ashenford cleared to touch to end the game.

STROUD: 1 Dan Smith (capt), 2 Phil Fruin, 3 Tom Allen, 4 Ben Stephens, 5 Josh Stratton, 6 Regan Herbert, 7 Matt Hunt 8, Stewart Hendry, 9 Joe Hoyle 10 Jake Marsh, 11 Sam Leworthy, 12 Dan Gordon, 13 Kurtis Herbert , 14 Peter Sykes, 15 Sam Hester 16 Sam Davies, 17 Connor Voyce, 18 Joe Ashenford.


The celebrations showed how much this game meant to the players as a league double over our closest rivals was something that should not be underestimated.

The conditions led this to be a real war of attrition, but Stroud were certainly up to the test and the commitment and cohesion of all 18 players earned a well-deserved victory. At times, this game could have easily got away from Stroud, but a real sense of belief and a renewed intensity ensured the unbeaten run continued. Stroud are back on the road this Saturday with a rearranged game at Bristol Saracens, 2.30pm.