by John Butler
THEY really do not come much tighter than this one!
Bishop’s Stortford may only be six matches into life in National League One, but by golly, they gave Coventry a mighty test at Butts Park Arena before Will Maisey’s second successful penalty finally sealed the win in added time and with it, courtesy of scoring four tries, a bonus point as well.
Victory, with Darlington Mowden Park losing, took Cov back to the top of the division, but that said, the Hertfordshire side came mighty close to pulling off a shock win.
Indeed, the visitors will probably feel that they deserved more than a losing bonus point and it is difficult not to agree with that argument. They had given Coventry their sternest test so far.
Overall though, it was a difficult afternoon for a number of reasons. Cov were greatly disrupted by injuries, the worst picked up by scrum-half Pete White, stretchered off after 27 minutes with a very painful leg injury and almost certainly ligament damage. Rob Knox, having moved into the centre, also departed after 71 minutes with several fingers pointing in different directions, plus there was a lengthy stoppage early in while a spectator was treated following an accident.
It all added up to a great deal of extra time. The White incident alone stopped the game for five minutes, yet referee Dewi Phillips added on less than three at half-time. Conversely, the second half ran for fully 54 minutes, admittedly after a succession of sundry stoppages with both sides affected.
The lead was destined to change five times overall. In front of a truly excellent sized crowd of 1,703, showing just how much supporters have been warming to Cov’s successes so far.
It was the visitors who drew first blood. A rather messy start from both sides saw Cov concede possession in their own 22, Bishop’s Stortford delighting their following by sending winger Chris Smith over wide on the right. Fly-half George Cullen converted superbly, indeed his boot was to prove to be a real threat all afternoon.
Stunned into a response, Cov pulled out their first try, top try scorer James Stokes scooting over, Will Maisey just misjudging the wind with his kick.
On 11 minutes, Brett Daynes was penalised, Cullen landing the first of five penalties to stretch the lead to 10-5.
The penalty count throughout was pretty even, but Cov conceded far too many in kicking range and that certainly helped to keep the visitors in contention.
Next blood though to Cov. A good build up saw Sam Tuitupou cross on the far right for his maiden club try, Maisey this time converting from wide out to leave Cov 12-10 up.
The lead lasted just six minutes as when the home pack were put under considerable scrum pressure, the resulting penalty allowed Cullen to edge his side a point back in front.
Shortly afterwards, the very excellent Stokes had a big hand in Cov regaining the lead for the second time. The full-back’s break down the left saw Anthony Matoto finish in some style for his maiden club try, Maisey adding the extras from wide out for a 19-13 lead.
Then came the unfortunate injury to White, and after a lengthy delay there was just time for Cullen to land another penalty to cut the deficit to three points at the break.
If Cov and their support believed the situation might ease, then Bishop’s Stortford, now playing into a crossfield wind, had other ideas. By the 54th minute the visitors were back in front for a third time as, with Cov bringing on Tom Emery in place of Tuitupou and moving Knox into the centre, flanker Rory Banks sealed a second try for the visitors, the boot of Cullen failing for the only time in the afternoon.
Down 21-19, Cov’s forwards produced a big drive before offside spoilt the move, and a similar ploy also failed although Bishop’s hooker Declan Caulfield was yellow carded for his part in the action.
Twice Cov had kicked to the corner without capitalising, before on 65 minutes, with the visitors penalised again, Maisey slotted a 30-metre kick for
Cov then conceded another penalty within kicking range of the dangerous Cullen boot; a lead-change once again in favour of the visitors to the tune of two points.
By this time Knox had departed with his injured hand, leaving Coventry to re-group the back division once again with Tuitupou returning.
Sensing that the unbeaten start to the season was in real danger, Cov piled on the pressure and on 74 minutes came the reward. Once again, it was the subsequently named sponsor’s man of the match, Stokes who did the real damage.
From fully 45 metres, Cov’s number 15 shot away on the right, a couple of dummies thrown in before he crossed wide out for the bonus point try, the angle just defeating Maisey’s attempted conversion.
27-24, but withi three minutes Bishop’s Stortford were back level. With Cov again conceding a penalty in kicking range as they continued to be bemused by some of the refereeing decisions, Cullen stepped up to take his personal match tally to 17 points.
Three minutes unto stoppage time, however, it was Coventry who were to gain the penalty award after the forwards had driven deep into visiting territory. From head on to the posts, Maisey had not difficulty in landing the decisive penalty of the game for a 30-27 margin.
It was safe to bet that a fair amount of further added time would follow.
The answer finally proved to be thirteen minutes, during which Bishops Stortford could still have seized the win, before finally with Cov back attacking , where they had witnessed the elusive Stokes only just being held up, Bishop’s Stortford’s scrum-half popped the ball into touch, safe in the knowledge his side were not going to lose the bonus point they had worked so hard for.
Victory for Cov, sighs of relief that a sixth consecutive season’s win had been achieved and with Darlington Mowden Park losing, a move back to the division’s top spot with three points to spare.
Coventry: tries Stokes 2 (5, 73), Tuitupou (16), Matoto (24); conversions Maisey 2 (17, 25); penalties Maisey 2 (65, 80). Bishop’s Stortford: tries Smith (2), Banks (53); conversion Cullen (3); penalties Cullen 5 (12, 25, 36, 68, 76).
Coventry: Stokes; Matoto, Stevens, Tuitupou (Emery h-t), Knox (Tuitupou 71); Maisey, White (Brazier 30); Litchfield (Boulton 60), Nilsen (Tolmie 60), Boulton (Titchard-jones 37, Litchfield 71), Gray (Povoas 66), Oram, Daynes, Povoas (Preece 51), Narraway.
Bishop’s Stortford: Hankin; Smith, Winter, Riddington, Neville (Rea 78); Cullen, Lennon (Patton 76); Young (Roberts 51), Caulfield, Edwards (McCrone 63), Apperley, Tomlinson, Leo (Aldam 66), Banks, Ball (Leo 80).
Referee: Dewi Phillips