by John Butler
Overcoming what was considered in advance to be a potentially tricky assignment, Coventry – full of power and authority – completed an excellent six tries to one win on a first visit to the Silver Leas ground.
Bishop’s Stortford had already shown their capabilities on the earlier visit to Butts Park and in the first 20 minutes there was evidence again that they could be a real threat.
However, once Cov, with their much superior strike power, clicked into gear it was a different story. Hard though Stortford tried to break down the Cov defence, they were constantly repelled and by half-time the result was not really in any doubt.
Conditions were far from easy. The ground, although well covered with grass, was clearly very soft and a strong diagonal wind was always also likely to play a part.
It was Cov who had first use of the elements, although Stortford did pose threats in the opening quarter before Cov struck first to gain a lead never to be subsequently lost.
After several players had combined in the build-up, Max Trimble ran in on the left, close enough for Will Maisey to defeat the wind with his conversion for 7-0 on six minutes.
Cov continued to press, but a number of times a lack of accuracy crept in to halt moves. Indeed, Trimble himself might have been over twice more as the visitors looked to increase their tally.
Stortford showed how dangerous they could be, a delicate chip from fly-half George Cullen setting right wing Nick Hankin free, before James Stokes applied a timely tackle to quell the danger.
Not to be denied, on 17 minutes Cullen landed a 22-metre penalty for 7-3 before Cov really set the tone of the match with three further tries in the space of twelve minutes.
After Pete White had sent a huge 50-metre wind-assisted kick into the home 22, Stortford got themselves into something of a mess. Line-out possession, which to prove to be something of an Achilles heel for them throughout, was lost close in, Cov capitalising to send Rob Knox over wide on the right. The Maisey conversion attempt was short, but Cov were to strike again brilliantly within two minutes.
With the forwards winning great turnover ball in midfield, the backs then put together several slick moves with the impressive Alex Grove well to the fore, before Stokes finished off in style for his 15th try of the season. The conversion again just failed.
On 35 minutes came try number four and the bonus point. With Knox rampaging through on the right, the position was set, possession swiftly moved to the left with Trimble claiming his second try. This time, from wide out, Maisey landed a beauty of a conversion with Cov clear at 24-3.
Stortford tried in vain to come back before the break, but solid Cov defence ensured there was no way through.
With wind advantage, the home side began the second half knowing points had to be pulled back quickly if they were to threaten.
Several times, though, after Stortford had reached the Cov 22 with long kicks, line-out ball on their own throw-in was lost, Cov each time clearing their lines without any real alarms.
The penalty count against Cov had grown to 9 -3 in home favour, but interestingly, as pressure in the half grew against Stortford, the penalty count by the end had virtually evened itself out.
Bishop’s Stortford were seeing enough possessionbut without looking as if they would break Cov’s ranks, and on 68 minutes the Butts Park men, in their Red & White change kit, produced their fifth try.
After good, controlled play had taken them into the home 22, successive rolling mauls were held before, with the penalty awards now coming Cov’s way, lock forward Nile Dacres was driven over for his second try in consecutive matches. To top it, Maisey, into the wind, landed a quite magnificent touchline conversion for 31-3.
Cov were not finished, and on 78 minutes another try arrived. With Trimble leading a break out, a long kick downfield saw Stortford desperate to repel, only for Cov to drive on, replacement hooker Scott Tolmie showing impressive pace to gain the touch down. The conversion failed into the wind.
Not to be completely outdone in the try stakes, Bishop’s Stortford battled for one last time, and deep in injury time a penalty to touch gained a place in the Cov 22 and, with replacement scrum-half Dave Brazier yellow carded for not rolling away, the home forwards piled on the pressure.
Following a sequence of melees on the Cov line, lock Matt Tomlinson was driven over, centre Matt Riddington converting.
The final whistle came shortly afterwards with Coventry knowing an 18th win of the season had been richly earned over opposition who had certainly battled all the way.
Victory gained in the knowledge as well that the 15-point lead at the top of National League One had been maintained.
Bishop’s Stortford: try Tomlinson (80); conversion Riddington (80); penalty Cullen (16). Coventry: tries Trimble 2 (7, 35), Knox (23), Stokes (26), Dacres (64), Tolmie (70); conversions Maisey 3 (8, 36, 65).
Bishop’s Stortford: Duff; Hankin, Winter, Riddington, Hutler; Cullen (Smith 50), T Banks (Coleman 50); Brownhill (McCrone 47), Palmer (Cattell 47), Edwards (Brownhill 57), Kelland (Ball h-t), Tomlinson, Apperley (Leo 72), R Banks, Leo (Kelland 57).
Coventry: Stokes; Knox, Grove, Matoto (Fenner 38), Trimble; Maisey, White (Brazier 56); Titchard-jones (Jeannot 36, Boulton 69, Jeannot 78), Nilsen (Tolmie 52), Boulton (Titchard-jones 56), Dacres, Oram, Makaafi (Daynes 52), Preece, Narraway (Makaafi 69).
Referee: Neil Chivers.