Bishop's Stortford edge Bury St Edmunds in first match at Silver Leys in 15 months
Bishop's Stortford 28 Bury St Edmunds 26
Bishop's Stortford followed up their 19-14 win at Bury the week before by edging Saturday's home return leg of the clubs' two-part friendly in their first match at Silver Leys in 15 months.
As the scoreline suggests, this was a very competitive run-out for both sides. Stortford selected two evenly balanced fifteens from among their first and second team squad, while omitting a number of first XV regulars, including skipper Sam Winter, while Bury had a smaller squad.
Playing a different team in each half, it might be thought that Stortford would have had an edge in fitness as the game progressed, but the visitors stayed the course well and undoubtedly benefited from a more focused team effort with far fewer changes.
Playing to the Covid-amended laws, the game was played at a fast pace, but the absence of scrums and mauls to tie forwards in meant that defences were more consistently spread across the field, making clean breaks extremely difficult to achieve.
It therefore took a misunderstanding in Stortford's midfield, which saw the ball go loose just inside their own half, to create an opening. Bury's lively backs were quick to seize on it, going through three or four quick phases of play, before touching down out wide, and an excellent touchline conversion took them into a seven-point lead after eight minutes.
The home side was stung into quick retaliation and a half break by Jack Scantlebury, delivering quick ball under the visitors' posts, allowed Rory Banks to crash over for a try only four minutes later. Austin Pope's conversion levelled the scores.
Defences dominated the next 20 minutes, aided somewhat by handling errors on both sides, and it was a fairly scrappy try to the visitors that broke the deadlock, with a forward diving over from short range after a breakdown penalty in midfield found a good touch.
The conversion restored Bury's seven-point lead, which they were able to hang onto until the break, although only a smart cover tackle from behind deprived Brad Etherington of an equalising try, after he had ripped the ball from an opponent's grasp on their 22.
Stortford's second-half selection seemed to bring renewed vigour and the scores were levelled again after 10 minutes, when Joe Johnson crashed over after a period of sustained pressure. Dan Cole converted well.
Within five minutes, though, Bury had their noses in front again, with an unconverted try out wide, after a couple of Stortford defenders stepped in unnecessarily, leaving a clear overlap, which was clinically exploited to give the Suffolk side a 19-14 lead.
The home side again mounted a period of sustained pressure, but this was met by more stern Bury defence, until a clever chip kick from Cole, inside the opposition 22, allowed Mike Ayrton to win a tight race to touch down. Cole's conversion after 25 minutes put Stortford ahead for the first time in the game, 21-19.
But this lasted barely three minutes, when the visitors took advantage of what looked like an obstruction blocking a one-on-one tackle in the centres to suck in the outside defenders for another well-converted try.
The home side stormed back onto the attack and scored the decisive converted try with some five minutes left, hooker Alex Rayment driving over from close range after a penalty had found touch deep in the Bury 22.
The visitors fought back yet again and exerted considerable pressure on the Stortford line, but some gritty defence, producing a couple of crucial turnovers, saw the home side squeeze home.