Stortford have to settle for draw in thrilling comeback
Bishop's Stortford 22, Darlington Mowden Park 22, National League 1
George Cullen missed with the last kick of the match as Bishop’s Stortford had to settle for a draw against second-placed Darlington.
Director of rugby Andy Long was back on the touchline at Silver Leys after missing the home win over Esher a fortnight ago to fly to Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
His side had their own mountain to climb – and looked to be heading for their first defeat in six games – when the visitors ran in their fourth try early in the second half to take a 22-7 lead.
But a converted try by Steve Ball after a period of good retention and patience, and a penalty kick from distance by fly half Cullen put the hosts within touching distance of Darlington at 22-17.
As the clock ticked down to 80 minutes, the tension was ratcheted up when Stortford won a 5m scrum from which the ball was swiftly worked wide left for replacement full back Nick Hankin to touch down.
As the crowd of 367 fell silent in dramatic expectation, Cullen’s conversion attempt from the left stayed right of the posts and Stortford had to settle for two points rather than four.
Defeat would have been harsh on Darlington, who scored first. After Cullen had missed with a penalty kick, centre and man-of-the-match Matt Riddington cut a great line after several phases to score under the posts. Cullen added the extras to put the hosts 7-5 ahead.
But an interception in midfield presented the visitors with an easy run-in, and they stretched their advantage with a second try down their left wing to go in at half-time 17-7 up. That flank yielded a fourth try early in the second half, but the third missed conversion was what eventually cost the away side victory.
The draw means that Stortford, who remain sixth in the table in their first season at rugby’s third tier, and Darlington retain their identical record of eight wins, three defeats and now a draw from their first 12 games.
The home side were without Dan Leo, the 35-year-old back row forward who won 39 caps for Samoa, as he was a guest pundit on Sky TV’s coverage of England’s 48-14 win over the Pacific islanders.
Bishop’s Stortford: Rob Duff, Chris Smith, Sam Winter (capt), Matt Riddington, Jimmy Rea, George Cullen, Tom Banks; Will Roberts, Declan Caulfield, Sean Edwards, James Apperley, Matt Tomlinson, Rory Banks, Dan Elsom, Steve Ball. Replacements: Sam James, Oli Jones, Nick Hankin, Seb Brownhill, Johnny Neville.
DMP: Connan, Mackenzie, Frankland, Law, McCartney, Seals, Blakeney-Edwards; Barron, Wood, Appleby, Brady, Craggs, Fisher, Duff, Hodgson. Replacements: Vaioletti, Payne, Uzokwe, Poole, Asher-Wood