A BRACE of tries in the third quarter from Sedgley Park centre Phil Jones and winger Lisi Tafa left Stourbridge RFC with too big a mountain to climb.

Despite a Herculean effort from captain Ben Hughes and his forward pack, Stour returned empty handed from their first trip to Park Lane since 2003.

Stour’s forwards put in an outstanding performance; their tight work was of the highest quality, while lock Hughes and number eight Duncan White were a constant thorn in the Mancunians’ side.

However, the loss of influential centres Adam Billig and Ben Barkley, who was forced to withdraw after damaging a hamstring during the warm-up, resulted in a lack of cohesion behind the scrum.

Sedgley’s experienced backs exploited the available space to good effect. The home side’s five tries all came from distance, with a number resulting directly from poor tackling.

Director of Rugby Neil Mitchell commented: “Losing Ben so close to kick off was a hammer blow. It left us with a backline made up of four guys who were playing local junior rugby last season. They are all promising players, but lack the experience to deal with opponents who have spent many years at a higher level.”

Stour favoured a tight, forward-based approach, and with intelligent prompting from scrum half Tom Richardson, the plan was superbly executed in the opening quarter.

Hooker Ben Gerry opened the scoring after only two minutes from a line out catch-and-drive, before Duncan White touched down from a carbon-copy move mid-way through the half.

Sedgley’s more fluid game twice brought equalizing scores for Jones and Richard Oxley, the latter in support of a jinking 50 metre run from full back Steve Nutt. The former Moseley number 15 added a brace of penalties when Stour transgressed on the ground, to give Park a 16-10 half time lead.

The home side made sure of five points before the hour mark, thanks to two more long-range strikes from their three-quarters. After Jones’ outrageous dummy and sidestep got him over on the right, a slashing break from fly half Richard Wainwright, one of five former Manchester players now wearing Tigers’ colours, gave Tongan speedster Tafa a clear run in.

Hughes crashed over from close range to offer hope of a late rally, but after withstanding considerable pressure, winger Matt Riley finished off another sweeping Sedgley handling move deep in stoppage time.

Nutt only managed ten points from his nine kicks at goal, but this average return still bettered Stour’s kickers, who missed with all four attempts.