Bishop's Stortford are edged out by Darlington in National League 1 opener
Bishop's Stortford 23 Darlington Mowden Park 26
Bishop’s Stortford lost narrowly to promotion favourites Darlington Mowden Park as the new National League 1 season got under way at a warm and sunny Silver Leys on Saturday.
All 49 points were scored in the second half as the game burst into life after a barren first half, and the crowd of 510 were treated to a seesaw affair as the lead changed hands four times.
Stortford enjoyed a decided edge in the first half, despite losing scrum half Alex Patton to injury with less than quarter of an hour gone, with Jimmy Rea moving in off the right wing to take his place. Small errors at crucial times meant that a number of scoring chances went begging.
It was the visitors – who finished second last season behind champions Coventry – who took the lead just three minutes into the second half when a mix-up at the back of a sound Stortford defensive scrum was ruthlessly exploited by hooker Ralph Appleby. Fly half Warren Seals kicked the conversion.
Stortford went straight back onto the attack and were awarded a penalty for a deliberate knock-on, which George Cullen converted.
Within a minute the home side were 10-7 ahead through a penalty try awarded for a dangerous tackle as Rob Duff touched down out wide following an excellent break in midfield by James Apperley.
As a result, Darlington full back Christian Georgiou was shown the yellow card. Their No 6, Chris Duffy, had also spent 10 minutes in the sin bin towards the end of the first half for up-ending Rea dangerously in a tackle in midfield.
The lead was widened to 13-7 three minutes later when Cullen – by now playing at full back as debutant ex-colt Tom Walker was switched to the wing – knocked over another penalty after two excellent tactical kicks by replacement Tom Coleman.
The visitors were not to be denied though and took a 14-13 lead with a converted try from Seals after a tremendous chip kick inside the Stortford 22 on 54 minutes.
Undaunted, Stortford battled back and Cullen’s third penalty goal six minutes later restored a two-point lead.
The game seemed to be over after 70 minutes, however, when the visitors scored the second of two tries in quick succession through McTurk and Georgiou as their backs showed their pace in exploiting some tired-looking tackling to lead 26-16.
But Stortford, who came from 22-7 down to draw 22-22 in the corresponding fixture last season, were not done and an excellent try out wide by Duff following a great passage of play, well converted by Cullen, set up a nail-biting finale.
Just 90 seconds remained at this point, and when Stortford were awarded a penalty 30 metres out they had the chance to go for goal and secure a draw. Instead, they elected to kick to the corner in search of the win.
But from the ensuing lineout Darlington were awarded a penalty, which they kicked into touch to end the match and secure their bonus-point win.
Stortford pick up a bonus point for the narrow defeat and will look to pick themselves up for the trip to Rosslyn Park next Saturday (Sept 8).
* On the neighbouring pitch at Silver Leys the second XV, Blues, beat Wimbledon 31-16 to start with a win.
Bishop’s Stortford: Tom Walker, Jimmy Rea, Sam Winter (c), George Keen, Rob Duff, George Cullen, Alex Patton; Seb Brownhill, Declan Caulfield, Sean Edwards, Jon George, Matt Tomlinson, James Apperley, Rory Banks, Charlie Kingham. Replacements: Sam James, Oli Jones, Chris Smith, Louis Castiglione, Tom Coleman.
Darlington Mowden Park: Georgiou, Hopp, Frankland, Law, Hall, Seals, Bravo; Appleby, Poole, Darkinitis, Brady, Vaioletti, Duffy, Stokes, Craggs. Replacements: Barron, Grant, Tuimatanasaqa, Brown, McTurk.
Referee: Veryan Boscowen. Star man: Charlie Kingham. Attendance: 510.