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Bishop's Stortford go down at Darlington Mowden Park in National League 1

By John Allanson

Bishop's Stortford were beaten 34-26 at Darlington Mowden Park in their final National League 1 match of the season.

It was an evenly-fought game with errors on both sides, but the home team's greater ability to take opportunities carried the day.

Stortford started both halves well, but were unable to press home their advantage and contrived on each occasion to turn over ball without registering a score and the home side took full advantage.

It took more than ten minutes of the first period for Darlington to even lay their hands on the ball but, having done so, quickly made the most of the opportunity, kicking a penalty for a five-metre lineout, from which they were able to drive over the line for a converted try.

The visitors bounced back and good breaks by Steve Ball and Rob Duff stretched the home defence to breaking point, with Dan Elsom on hand to add the touchdown. Unfortunately, in doing so, the flanker incurred an injury which ended his involvement in the game. Oli Jones went on as replacement.

Retiring Stortford players Steve Ball, left, and Matt Tomlinson after their final game at Darlington. Credit: Juliet Scantlebury (9388340)
Retiring Stortford players Steve Ball, left, and Matt Tomlinson after their final game at Darlington. Credit: Juliet Scantlebury (9388340)

The home side then exploited some uncharacteristically loose tackling out wide to score a soft try, which again was well converted to stretch the lead to nine points.

Stortford, buoyed by an unusually dominant scrum, worked their way into the home 22 but, with time before the break running out, they gave up an easy turnover by failing to support strongly enough a second- or third-phase drive.

The visitors reshuffled their whole backline at the break, which must have been a factor in a somewhat disjointed defensive effort early in the second period. Darlington took full advantage, albeit needing a friendly bounce from a chip ahead to produce a third converted try.

Stortford were far from finished and tries from Baxter Wilson and Sam Cappaert, both converted by the fly-half, narrowed the deficit to two points.

Unfortunately, the visitors were unable to maintain the pressure and conceded three points to a penalty for offside under their posts with 27 minutes of the half gone.

Worse was soon to come as the home side's forwards won the restart convincingly and swept immediately almost to the Stortford line. Once again, the hosts showed how to press home territorial advantage, and within four or five phases, registered their fourth try to move 12 points ahead with eight minutes to go.

Within two minutes, Stortford struck back when a great snipe up the middle from Tom Banks and a clever rolling kick ahead put Duff clear. The bounce this time did not favour the attacking side, with the winger having to wait for a bounce and he was caught from behind, but Harrison King was on hand to take the offload and touch down under the posts for the visitors' bonus-point try.

Darlington kept their noses ahead with another penalty goal after 77 minutes, but still Stortford stormed back at them, winning a five-metre lineout. Unfortunately, the drill went slightly awry and the hosts were able to turn the ball over and gratefully kick the ball dead to end the match.

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