MATCH REPORT: Bury St Edmunds unable to pull off upset
Bury St Edmunds signed off for 2016 with a fourth straight defeat as Bishops Stortford claimed a 33-9 victory which sent them top of the National League Two South table.
Gavin Hogg's side had gone into what was, geographically at least, the second leg of their season derby looking to restore some pride and pull off an upset in front of a bumper home crowd, having lost 36-7 in Hertfordshire in September.
But after Tom Bank's early penalty for the visitors was levelled by the boot of Scott Lyle, it was Bishops Stortford who were always comfortably in control on the scoreboard.
Former England Counties player Sam Winter cut a clever line through the Bury defence for the visitor's first try, converted by Banks, 13 minutes in.
Lyle's second penalty doubled Bury's points before William Simmonds dotted down for an unconverted score on the half-hour mark.
Another successful Banks penalty made it 21-6 in the visitor's favour heading into the interval.
Bury broke into Stortford's 22 straight from the restart and were awarded a penalty, with the decision made to kick the points, which Lyle duly did.
But it took only five minutes for the optimism of a Bury comeback to be dashed as replacement Michell Hugh put down among a crowded left-hand corner with an excellent conversion from Banks stretching their advantage to 28-9.
The bonus point try was scored in the 64th minute as more powerful forwards play ended with another replacement, Dotta Pierfrancesco, touching down. But this time, Banks put his conversion attempt just wide.
The home crowd were desperate for a try from their side, and it finally came in the 68th minute.
A fantastic display of power at the maul saw Bury fuel the 'heave' cries to a crescendo which culminated in Sean Stapleton emerging to take the congratulations from his teammates. Lyle executed a simple kick in front of the posts to reduce the deficit to 33-16.
The final 10 minutes saw Bishops Stortford, geed on by hearing a win was set to send them top with Chinnor drawing 29-29 with Henley, which was how it stayed.
There was to be no further change to the score at the GK IPA Haberden either, but the Bury coaching staff will have been consoled that their side were at least competitive against a very good side, despite having four backs in Pierre Peres, Jacob Bodkin, Chris Snelling and Chris Lord all injured.
The game was also Ben Enoka's last appearance before returning to New Zealand after two years at the club.
As Bury break for Christmas they will know there will be little margin for error when they return in January, if they are not going to be dragged into a relegation battle in an extremely tight bottom half of the table.
*For reaction from director of rugby Gavin Hogg, see Friday's Bury Free Press print edition.