OLD Hales travelled to Stafford expecting a tough test of their promotion credentials and they were not disappointed.

The home side started the brighter, kicking a penalty from outside the 22, when Hales were deemed to have handled in a ruck. The visitors soon struck back with two Ben Smith penalties and took a narrow but confident lead into the half-time break. The game appeared to be determined by the strong end-to-end wind against which Hales had toiled in the first half. With a lead at the break, they adopted the tactic of playing for territory. This ploy worked when, in the 57th minute from a line-out just inside the Stafford half.

The visitors hammered forward through Tristan Laga and Luke Gaynham in the centres before moving the ball quickly to the backs, where Tom Harris exposed a gap in the defence and raced through. Harris offloaded the ball to Seb Rose who showed pace and strength to score in the corner for an unconverted try.

Five minutes later, Hales had Tim Curtis sin-binned for foul play, but managed to prevent the home side from scoring.

Indeed, Hales had a penalty opportunity on the Stafford 10-metre. Smith, who had just taken a hard hit and was later hospitalised, narrowly missed the kick. The territory soaked up valuable minutes, but the efforts exerted during the sin-binning appeared to have taken its toll on the Halesowen defence. In the final minute, powerful Stafford centre Jake Gough slipped a tackle and set up a well-taken score under the posts. The conversion was added, to ensure a nervous final minute for the visitors, who controlled the ball well at the breakdown, before Chris Wagstaff punted the ball deep into the stands to end the game.

Hales entertain Shrewsbury in the cup this Saturday (3.30pm kick-off).