Staffordshire travelled down to Dudley Kingswinford RFC on Sunday 9th April 2023 for their first Jason Leonard U20s Championship Game of the season. Old rivals North Midlands had already won their first game against Warwickshire so were looking forward to playing Staffs as the two have not met in the championship for a few seasons. The day was breezy and cool with a few periods of spring sunshine with everything set for a good afternoon of Rugby.
Preparations over, Referee Chris Mulroy and his team from NLD got the game underway in front of a sizeable crowd eager to be entertained. The visitors kicked off and the ball was fielded by the powerful looking North Mids forward who went through the phases moving the ball into the staffs half and putting the boys in green and white under pressure. The first 5 minutes were honours even until the home side spilled the ball which Staffs moved quickly to Centre Ben Ashmore who scythed through the midfield breaking the final tackle to scamper in to the left of the uprights. Fly Half Ollie Rowberry added the extras to give the visitors a 7-0 lead.
A prolonged period of Staffordshire pressure followed which the hosts defended valiantly until some quick footwork from scrum half Will Bailey released Jay Haydock down the right wing to score in the corner. The conversion hit the uprights taking the visitors to a 12-0 lead.
NM hit back at the end of the first quarter when staffs defence had got too narrow and the hosts right winger went outside his opposite number to acrobatically dot the ball down in the right corner, the conversion fell short, 12-5.
The second quarter of the game was all Staffs with constant pressure and many turnovers Jay Haydock scored his second down the right wing and first Prop Eddie Brown and then flanker Tom Coton both showing that forwards can score to with some great pick and go and support play. All 3 tries were converted by Ollie Rowberry to bring the half time score to North Mids 5 – Staffordshire 33,
The second half started much as the first had ended with Staffordshire in control and the forwards led by captain Tom Gibson taking control and working the way back up the pitch. Following an infringement by the host the visitors opted for field position kicking to the corner. From good ball at the lineout Staffs drove for the line with hooker Ben Clay finally securing the Try from the ensuing maul. The conversion was good Staffs lead 40 -5.
At this point the Staffs coaching team decided to start rolling the bench replacing Captain Tom Gibson with Alex McDonald and 2nd Row Joe Shacklock with Cam Maughan. Unfortunately this appeared to upset the balance and the home side started to get themselves back in the game scoring 3 unanswered tries in the next 10 minutes 2 from their wingers an one from their No 8 one of which was converted to bring the score back to 40-24 at the end of the 3rd quarter.
On the 60 minute mark further replacements were made with Gregor Hayes replacing Danny Griffen and Bob Clews coming on for Joel Finnemore on the wing. Gregor Hayes ws straight into with some strong carrying in the midfield forcing NM to concede a penalty for tackler not releasing, A quick tap from scrum half Will Bailey saw him dart through the retiring players then accelerate away to score under the posts, giving Rowberry an easy conversion.
Jay Haydock saw his Hat Trick come up shortly afterwards as he found room out on the right wing to finish in the corner, the conversion sliding just wide.
North Mids were not done yet however and some poor communication from the kick off saw the ball find grass and the home sides winger beating all the Staffs players to the bounce and weaving through the defence to score just left of the uprights. The conversion was good.
Staffs rolled the rest of their subs on with Ollie Platt coming in at prop for Eddie Brown, Anton Davidson coming in on the flank with Tom Coton moving to hooker, Ben Clay leaving the field. As play restarted the hosts were reduced to 14 when their No 8 was shown a Yellow card for deliberately slowing the ball down.
The visiting forwards took this as their cue to again rampage up the pitch giving scrum half Will Bailey the platform to dart over for his second try before he retired from the game for James Milan to take over at Scrum Half.
Replacement Prop Ollie Platt caught the ball from the re-start and set off down the pitch but was adjudged to have used his forearm against the opposition tackers neck and saw a Yellow card which he would not return from.
Both sides finished the last few minutes of the game defending resolutely but the visitors finally running out deserved winners at North Midlands U20 31 – Staffordshire U20 57.
Staffordshire next face Warwickshire on Sunday 23rd April 2023 at Newcastle (Staffs) RFC 2.30pm kick off.
Final Score North Midlands U20 31 – Staffordshire U20 57.
Scorers – Tries:- Jay Haydock (3), Will Bailey (2), Ben Ashmore, Eddie Brown, Tom Coton, Ben Clay. Conversions:- Ollie Rowberry (6)