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Bishop's Stortford begin 2022 with a 31-17 defeat at Plymouth Albion in National League 1

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Bishop's Stortford began the year with a 31-17 defeat at Plymouth Albion when they resumed their National League 1 campaign on Saturday.

The visitors battled hard in dreadful playing conditions of cold, wet and mud, but a surfeit of defensive lapses was exploited by the strong hosts as they claimed a deserved victory.

Stortford started strongly, but the Plymouth defence held tight and, with virtually their first possession, scored the opening try after six minutes when a speculative kick over the visitors' flat defence bounced kindly for the home side, resulting in a score close to the posts. The try was easily converted.

Worse was soon to come for the visitors when a penalty try was awarded after George Cullen clearly knocked on a ball he had little chance of catching. But the long, looping pass seemed far from certain to reach its target on the right wing and, even if it had, in the tough conditions a clean catch and try was hardly a given, so the seven points, plus the yellow card shown to the fly-half, looked harsh indeed.

Credit has to be given to Plymouth for the skill they showed in playing some ambitious rugby up to that point, based on some excellent offloading and handling in the dreadful conditions. Nevertheless, and despite their 10 minutes' one-man disadvantage, Stortford rallied tremendously over the rest of the first half and steadily whittled down the deficit to a mere two points at the break as first Dan Powell and then Cullen himself slotted four penalty goals between them.

All followed good kicks, using the strong following wind to great effect, with Dan Smart putting in two excellent positional kicks, the first brilliantly chased down by Alex Gilham and then Cullen registering his first 50-22 touch to set up the crucial attacking positions, where intense pressure forced the errors.

Unfortunately, Stortford's start to the second half was even more profligate than in the first, not only relieving the scoreboard pressure that had been built up when the first period had ended, but conceding two unconverted tries within the first five minutes to give themselves a mountain to climb.

Both came from some uncharacteristically sloppy defending, with Plymouth's right wing given an overlap far too easily for the first, and the second coming from a chipped kick to the same player, given yards of room outside his opposite number. The initial errors were then both compounded by some poor cover tackling.

Once again, however, the visitors showed great spirit to fight their way back into the game and a half-break by returning skipper Sam Winter led to an unconverted try for fellow centre James Ayrton.

The latter rounded off some good team rugby by stepping inside and breaking the last tackle to touch down after his side had gone through several phases in the increasingly difficult conditions.

James Ayrton. Picture: Vikki Lince (54163750)
James Ayrton. Picture: Vikki Lince (54163750)

This brought Stortford back within range of a losing bonus point, but that too was snatched away when Plymouth once again ruthlessly exploited some loose defending to touch down under the posts for a converted try.

The visitors yet again showed their fighting spirit, forcing their way upfield through sheer force of will, but had left themselves too much to do and, even though they were hammering at the Plymouth line at the death, a knock-on in a tackle brought the game to an end.

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