Bill Beaumont Senior Men’s County Championship, Division 2, Pool 1 – 14th May 2022
Staffordshire 52 – Warwickshire 35
Staffs maintained their excellent start to this season’s county championship with their 2nd win to take over top spot in their Pool and by so doing, give themselves every chance to reach the Final.
Staffs fielded 7 changes to the squad that defeated Cumbria at Wigton last weekend, but the core of the side still contained 9 Burton players.
The back division was almost unchanged with Chaz Bunting and Jamie Dutton, both from Burton at half back. Stoke’s Sam Clarke and Burton’s Alex Nesbitt maintained their centre partnership with Harry Titley from Burton at full back and Henry Knox from Longton on the wing joined by newcomer Benny Elliot from Newport on the right wing.
Connor Wood at Cardiff University, James Davies from Burton, making his 5th county appearance and Jeri Oldfield from Derby made up the front row. Joe Gazzard, Burton, made a return to the county side at lock partnering Josh Bailey from Stoke.
The retained back row had George Boughey, Stoke, with Callum Donnelly and skipper Jack Neal, both from Burton ensuring a tough line of defence for the home side.
The bench had 5 changes. Newcomers were hooker Luis Evitt from Bridgnorth, lock Rico Bentley from Longton, wing, Harry Edwards from Wolverhampton, wing Joe Byrne from Leek and veteran county stalwart Carl Williams from Stoke covering prop and flanker. Wing, Will Derry, Burton and prop, Mike Pattern from Stoke made up the multi club replacements.
On a glorious afternoon at Wolverhampton, the match was preceded by a minute’s silence in respect of the passing of Mike Davies, former Staffordshire captain, England forward and England head coach of the 1980 grand slam team.
The start of the match saw Benny Elliot on his first appearance touching down after 32 seconds. Warks kicked off, the ball was fielded in Staffs 22 and the clearance kick wasn’t gathered. The ball made an awkward bounce away from defenders and Elliot pounced to collect and score by the posts. He converted his own try and Staffs led early 7-0.
From the restart, Warks kicked the ball dead and from the ensuing scrum on halfway were penalised for bringing the scrum down. Elliot lined up the penalty from halfway and duly split the posts increasing Staffs lead to 10-0 with barely 3 minutes on the clock.
As Warks clawed their way back into the game on 10 minutes a promising move on Staffs 22 saw a long pass intended for the right wing, intercepted by Harry Titley who then outpaced all comers to score under the posts. Elliot converted and Staffs led 17-0.
Warks came back again and on 15 minutes had a penalty which they used to kick for a lineout on Staffs 5 metre line on the left. Staffs won the ball, but in the palm back, the ball bounced awkwardly on the line and a Warks forward was first to react to touch down. The conversion was good and Staffs lead was reduced to 17-7.
4 minutes later Staffs won a penalty for offside following a maul after a lineout and Elliot kicked another penalty to give Staffs a 20-7 lead as the breath taking opening quarter ended.
Elliot was held up in goal by a superb tackle on 33 minutes after Staffs turned the ball over on halfway, but 2 minutes later, perhaps the try of the game was scored by man of the match Chaz Bunting as the scrum half collected a clearance kick on his own 22. He went on a weaving, quick run evading all tacklers to score a fantastic try on the left. Elliot converted and at 27-7, Staffs were in a good position.
However, as last week, Staffs conceded late in the half, with the last phases by the Warks forwards on Staffs 5 metre line and despite a tremendous defensive effort, Warks’ patience was rewarded as the left-wing Manny Sidhu went over for a deserved try. The conversion was good, and the half ended 27-14 with the game in the balance.
At the restart Staffs won a penalty as Warks were penalised on the ground at the first phase and Elliot kicked his 3rd penalty to increase Staffs lead to 30-14.
2 minutes later and Manny Sidhu scored his 2nd and Warks’ 3rd try after a turnover from the kick off from which the visitors worked quickly to produce an overlap for the speedy winger. The conversion was good, and the score closed to 30-21.
From the kick off, Staffs won another penalty for not releasing at the tackle and Elliot’s 4th successful penalty nudged Staffs to 33-21.
Then, 6 minutes into the half came the decisive score when a clearance kick from the restart found Chaz Bunting midway in his own half. Moving past one tackler, he straightened to give Alex Nesbitt a try scoring pass and the big centre made no mistake with a blistering run to the line to give Staffs their try scoring bonus point but more importantly with the successful Elliot conversion a 40-21 lead.
The 2nd half had been nothing but tremendous entertainment with points coming thick and fast and Warks should have scored on 49 minutes but a knock on near the line gave Staffs a scrum. However, Warks won the ball at the scrum and great work by the backs again found an overlap for their 4th and bonus point winning try. The conversion was good and at 40-28, it was still anyone’s game.
Warks missed a 63rd minute penalty and then Staffs finally had some possession in the Warks 22 after a penalty allowed for a lineout. A patient build up finally led to an assault on the line and Calum Donnelly crashed over for Staffs’ 5th try on 68 minutes. Benny Elliot missed his only kick of the game at the conversion but still Staffs lifted the score line to 45-28.
From the kick off, Staffs attempted clearance kick was charged down at the back of the ruck and the race for the line was won by a visiting back. The conversion was good on 71 minutes. 45-35. Could there be another twist yet?
Well, it was Staffs which finished off the scoring with the final play after a scum in centre field outside the Warks 22 saw the ball find the hands of the electric Benny Elliot and the winger sprinted in for his 2nd try which he converted to end the game at 52-35 and a personal points haul of 32.
An 11 try fest was served up by the players in a great advert for county rugby at Castlecroft where it was thought that the last time a county match was hosted was in 1971 when Staffs played The Netherlands.
Staffs 52 points today matched the number of points they scored against Warwickshire the last time these 2 sides met in the 2019 championship at Stoke. Unfortunately for Staffs then, Warwickshire scored 63 points.
This season though has seen a determined effort by the new coaching team to mould a strong squad around the Burton core and there is a growing belief in the squad as they face a difficult task next Saturday when they travel to Northampton Casuals RUFC to take on hosts, East Midlands.
Cumbria beat East Midlands 21-17 at Carlisle today to hand Staffs the current lead in Division 2 Pool 1.
Staffs with a maximum 10 points from 2 games can still win the division with a win at East Midlands, finish 2nd with a loss and Warwickshire beat Cumbria or finish 3rd if they lose to East Midlands, don’t get a losing point or try bonus point and Cumbria pick up a strong win at Nuneaton against Warwickshire next Saturday.
So, the division is in the balance but all in Staffordshire’s own hands.
Please come and support the squad if you can and get involved in what is proving to be an exciting team to watch.