At this stage of any campaign, it’s all about grinding out the wins.
It wasn’t pretty but Banbury Bulls picked up their 15th win in a row and a crucial five points in their push for promotion in Wadworth 6X South West One.
A couple of tries from replacement Tommy Gray and a man-of-the-match performance from Giles Saar helped Bulls to a 41-29 victory over Stratford at Loxley Road on Saturday.
Stratford started brightly and charged into an early lead after Bulls were penalised for offside and Nath Geekie kicked for the corner. Ben Cole gathered at the back of the rolling maul before touching down.
Freddie Cracknell had to be replaced by Gray before Stratford were in again. James Southall chipped over the top, Dan Whitby gathered well before breaking a tackle and out-sprinting the injured Jimmy Manley.
Going behind so early seemed to wake Bulls up and they quickly got themselves on the scoreboard. Sam Stoop got the ball wide to Joe Mills who drew the last man before shipping the ball on to Gray who touched down in the corner.
Gray soon bagged his second try, exchanging passes with Joe Winpenny who drew two defenders before passing the ball back to the full-back who dived over the line. Ed Phillips nailed a tricky conversion from out wide to give Bulls the lead.
Saar extended the lead with one of the solo tries of the season. The flanker picked up a loose ball before running through the Stratford defence, breaking four tackles before running over the full-back to score and Ed Phillips converted.
Bulls had a good period and should have extended their lead but blew a couple opportunities close to the line. Stratford punished them when a couple of neat off-loads in the 22 saw the ball recycled out wide for Whitby to score his second try.
Geekie converted to make it 19-17 and Stratford could have on in ahead had they not knocked-on at a crucial time.
Bulls were much improved after the restart and extended their lead when Ed Phillips went down the blind-side. He found Chris Phillips who drew the last man before passing the ball on to Dan Brady who dived over in the corner.
Ed Phillips added a penalty after Stratford were punished for hands in the ruck before Jack Briggs scored. Stoop made a break down the left before off-loading to the big inside centre who smashed his way through a couple tackles to score.
Ed Phillips kicked a tricky conversion before Bulls won a scrum five metres from the try-line after Stratford knocked-on. Ed Phillips passed the ball on to Mills who knocked-on from close range and Charlie Powell sprinted the length of the pitch to score in the corner.
Geekie converted to make it 34-24 before he was set up by the Stratford backs to score in the corner. Stratford were back in it but Bulls delivered the final blow just before the final whistle.
Briggs found Gray who spotted a gap in the Stratford line and burst his way straight through it. He out-sprinted the Stratford defenders before drawing the last man and playing in Mills who gathered and touched the ball down out to the left.
Ed Phillips kicked another high-pressure conversion to seal the victory and end any hopes of a late comeback.