Another fine away win shows the spirit runs deep for Oakfielders
By Ralph Henderson - Nub News contributor
20th Nov 2023 | Rugby
Stowmarket 31, Thurrock 43
AWAY victories are hard to come by in any sport.Psychologists make a living trying to help teams and individuals achieve success "on the road".
For centuries, it was almost impossible to win a World Boxing Title in America, whereas Wales took over a hundred years to beat South Africa Away and have never achieved a single victory in New Zealand!
In football, a home draw is a godsend in the FA Cup, while the Olympic Games usually heralds a cornucopia of medals for the host nation.
At this level of rugby, away victories are the key to League success and coaches apply a variety of strategies to maximise opportunities. These often involve encouraging availability, building team spirit, early arrival and acclimatising to local conditions.
Having large numbers of travelling supporters is always helpful as Thurrock benefited in the unrivalled days of Cup success in the seventies and eighties!
England's Cricket Team often derives huge motivation from "The Barmy Army".
In spite of all efforts, frequently the home side will start as favourites.
This season, the Thurrock coaching team and players have built a camaraderie that has engendered a passion for away trips and this is reflected in their results, even though they have to dig deep to return home with the spoils.
Saturday's trip to the Chilton Field Sports Ground was no different.
As those supreme geographers Lew Hughes and Graham Morris will tell you, Stowmarket is on the A14, midway between Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds situated at the confluence of the Rivers Gipping and Rat! Deep into Suffolk, it is not a place for the faint-hearted!
As befits a home side, Stowmarket threw everything into the early exchanges and were rewarded with a brace of penalties. Centre Jonathan Mann shanked a couple of initial sighters before opening the scoring with a straightforward penalty.
Thurrock managed to gain a foothold in Stowmarket territory through good approach work from Dritan Loka and Caolán Watts-Adams. In spite of the squally conditions, there was some good continuity of handling, a neat switch between Kye Holloway and Rhys Cotter, before a lateral attack and burst for Kodie Holloway to open Thurrock's account. Blake Burns converted.
However, both sides were struggling with kicking out of hand in the swirling wind. A couple of charge downs gifted the home side inviting field position. Lawrence Brown, Tom Wileman and George Miles were providing a solid platform in the scrums but, for once, the line-out struggled in the autumn breeze.
Subsequently, the Stowmarket pack prospered and, from a driving maul, hooker Jack Haward was unstoppable and the lead was restored.
Even though depth was achieved from the restart, flying winger Thomas Wright beat the cover defence with sheer speed to extend the lead.
Ben Timson and Niall Clifford rallied the troops and Thurrock's back row of Timson, Holloway and New Zealander, Jamie Orr began to impose themselves on the game in defence and attack.
Thurrock thundered into the opposition ranks and were only halted by an illegality that led to a yellow card for flanker Jake Fearby.
Thurrock took full advantage and the pressure led to a good leg drive from Rhys Cotter before the ubiquitous George Miles crashed through the cover defence to reduce the arrears.
Watts-Adams, Orr and Timson were now returning the barrage of kicks with compelling drives, supported by the power of Henry Bird and Niall Clifford.
Burns was kicking well off the tee and now started to demonstrate greater accuracy on the right touch line.
With Bird and Clifford strangling Stowmarket's midfield ambitions, they were forced into sporadic attacks through their forwards and the creativity of wingers Wright and the inaptly named Jack Norfolk.
The game entered a staccato period as half-time saw Rob Murphy enter the fray to give young Scott Chitty a little respite after an outstanding return from serious injury.
Thurrock resumed in the fading light and, almost immediately, Rhys Cotter was called into action to make one of his trademark tackles as lightning winger Norfolk, accelerated away from the cover defence.
Jay Jennings came on to the field and with Jamie Orr started to provide good line -out options with their athleticism.
A great pick up by Burns, saw Henry Bird thunder through a half gap. Sensibly waiting for support, he found Cotter on his shoulder who fed the returning Harry Reynolds who gratefully accepted the scoring pass to increase his season's tally.
The talismanic Anthony Catchpole entered the fray to carry on where Tom Wileman had left off.
With Thurrock hitting their stride, it seemed as if there could be only one outcome ,but Stowmarket would not "lie down".
Following an amazing cross-field kick by Daniel Garrad, Tom Wright caught the ball without compromising his stride and sprinted away for what seemed a certain try. Alas they had not counted on Rhys Cotter's sensational cadence as the full- back hauled down the flying winger yards from the line.
Murphy cleared his lines only to see opposite wing Jack Norfolk setting off on an identical flight path, only to be thwarted again by Cotter who appeared from nowhere to make yet another incredible tackle.
With Clifford and Bird sealing up the middle of the park, Stowmarket resorted to more traditional means and they restored a fragile lead when Jack Cole forced his way over and Mann's touchline conversion cleared the cross-bar.
There is a grittiness and determination about this current side and after the brilliant centre partnership of Bird and Clifford had softened up the defence, a solid scrum allowed Cotter an attacking opportunity. Timson fed Murphy and Cotter threw a swift dummy before scooting over.
This was the cue for the Oakfielders to go into overdrive.
Side-stepping sorties from Timson and Jamie Orr set up good ball for Burns. A sweet pass put Kodie Holloway into space, a shimmy and he was in for his second try. This back row is operating at a very high level with complementary unit skills .In tandem with the pace of former back rowers, Watts-Adams, Jay Jennings and Lawrence Brown, this is a set of forwards to match any!
More was to follow and, after Reynolds went close the ever popular Ant, the tank Catchpole scored the try of his career, spreadeagling a host of defenders as he drove over from fully 15 metres.
Stowmarket deserved their bonus point try before Burns made sure of a well- deserved victory and Thurrock maintained their outstanding away record.
This week is a bye week.