Stags win at nearest rivals to claim title
Imperial Medicals 13 Stevenage Town 25 Stags wrapped up the league title - and booked a derby date with Letchworth in the London Two North next season. They earned a deserved and hard-fought victory, leaving Medicals to battle it out with London New Zeala
Imperial Medicals 13 Stevenage Town 25
Stags wrapped up the league title - and booked a derby date with Letchworth in the London Two North next season.
They earned a deserved and hard-fought victory, leaving Medicals to battle it out with London New Zealand and Hammersmith and Fulham for second place and a shot at promotion through the play-offs.
Stags played into a strong wind in the first half and found themselves six points down within nine minutes having conceded two penalties and having hardly touched the ball.
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In fact it was not until the 18th minute when centre Alex Willcox made a charging run through midfield that Stevenage looked like they were in the game.
But nothing was going to spoil the day for Town as they gradually clawed themselves back into the game by exerting the sort of forward dominance that has marked their league-winning season.
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In the 27th minute, lock Richard Penny finished off the last of three determined forward drives for the line by scoring a well-deserved try.
Just before half-time, Stevenage nudged in front. Ian Crompton was late tackled and from the resultant penalty, of which Town initially made a mess, Penny's partner in the second row, Adam Amos, crashed over for his third try in consecutive league games.
Stags went into half time with a 10-6 lead and the prospect of the wind in their favour in the second half.
Within five minutes of the restart, Town had extended their lead with a fine try from Kyle Lemon, fresh from a fine performance for the other Stags (Herts under-20s) the previous Sunday.
A kick ahead was chased down by Crompton who turned over possession and fed Gareth Roberts and he in turn passed to Lemon, who then ran in 30 yards to score under the posts. Gareth Lewis added the conversion.
With a lead of 17-6, Town looked in complete control and Medicals looked equally down and out.
The front row of Neil Bamber, Tavita Faamausili and Barry Cook were giving their opponents a torrid time and the rest of the pack were lively in the loose play as Medicals were denied any meaningful possession.
Inexplicably, Town allowed Medicals back into the game when scrum-half Gareth Wall, who otherwise had a sound game, attempted to switch play.
He threw out a wayward pass which was intercepted by the Medicals centre who ran in unopposed under the posts.
Wall was not helped by some poor attempts at a tackle by his colleagues.
This brought Medicals to within four points of the leaders with still 25 minutes to play and signified a resurgence as they threw everything at Town for the next 15 minutes as they camped just short of the line.
Stevenage, in response, showed many of the qualities that have won them the league as they held firm against the onslaught, even though they went down to 14 men when Marc Dyer was sent to the sin bin for killing the ball.
With 10 minutes to go, Stevenage relieved the pressure when they turned over Medicals' ball and a break by Amos and Roberts ended with a penalty to Stevenage in front of the posts.
The sides evened up numerically as the Medicals number eight was also sent to the sin bin and Lewis landed an important kick for Town as this restored the lead to seven points.
With three minutes left on the clock, Town rounded off a fantastic league campaign and secured the title when Michael Wilson kicked ahead and Crompton followed up to score and put the result beyond doubt.
Stevenage turn their attention to the semi-finals of the Herts Presidents' Cup this Sunday. They entertain London League One side Old Albanian in a repeat of last year's semi-final. The kick-off at North Road is 2.30pm.