National League - Division Two South - Bury St Edmunds 22 Bishops Stortford 41
Josh Walker could not hide his pride after returning ‘home’ to lead Bury St Edmunds at their highest level despite suffering an opening day defeat.
The Haberden-based outfit endured a baptism of fire to National League Division Two South as last season’s beaten playoff finalists finally showed their pedigree in the latter stages to overcome a spirited display by Gavin Hogg’s side in front of a passionate and large home crowd.
But despite the defeat, Walker, who has returned to Suffolk after stints playing in New Zealand and for Bedwas in the Welsh Premiership, hailed his side’s endeavours in what was an emotional homecoming for the new captain.
“I’m immensely proud, it was a huge honour for me to lead out the boys. I had a little moment to myself as I ran out and looked up at the crowd’s amazing support,” said Walker, who has also played for the England Students side.
“I played minis rugby here and all youth groups and then went to university. I’ve watched the club grow in the four years I’ve been away and I’ve kept my eye on it.
“You can’t beat home. I’ve known the management a long time and they always said the future was going to bright and it is getting there.
“You’ve got to be proud of the boys. We knew we had to play with a lot of heart and passion at the start of the new season and we did that.
“But saying that we have to build on it and be competitive in this league.
“This squad isn’t here to be losing, we all want to win and be competitive at this level .
“I think we will surprise quite a few people, that is what we want to do.
“It is just the little things that let us down but we won’t dwell on it and we will get it right in the coming weeks.”
After being roared on to the field by the home support, Bury soon found themselves behind as flying winger Harry Marner broke through a small gap to score in the right-hand corner. Tom Coleman duly added the extras to give the visitors an early 7-0 lead.
Bury soon settled into the encounter and after Ollie Snook missed a difficult penalty attempt, the home got themselves level.
A period of mounting pressure finally reaped rewards as a flowing move from right to left saw Clement Le Roy feed Matt Hema to power through. Snook made light work of the conversion to put his side on level terms.
However, ill-discipline would prove decisive in the latter stages of the first period as John Hall was sin-binned after 26 minutes.
The visitors soon took advantage of their man advantage as despite some dogged defensive work right on Bury’s line, Richard Gill managed to squirm through with Mikey Gallagher converting easily to reinstate Stortford’s seven point advantage.
Again the home side responded strongly and managed to reduce the deficit back to four points as Snook slotted over a difficult 32nd minute penalty much to delight of the crowd.
But their joy was to prove short lived as the visitors punished Bury’s defensive frailties once again with the impressive Sam Winter broke through the defensive line before racing clear to score on the right-hand side.
Gallagher’s right boot again proved reliable as he slotted over the conversion to give Bishop’s Stortford a 21-10 lead at the interval.
The rejuvenated home side came out firing after the break and quickly set about reducing the deficit.
After Chris Snelling made a lung-busting run down the right-hand side to get Bury forward, Tim Mann managed to steal possession right on the visitor’s line before bundling over.
Snook slotted over the extras to bring the hosts to within four points of the visitors.
And with the Habderden rocking, the players soon gave the crowd something else to roar about as they took the lead for the first time.
A flowing move out of a scrum from left to right saw Le Roy find Mann who in turn released Gary Andrews to score in the corner. Snook failed to add the conversion as the hosts held a slender 22-21 lead going into the final 20 minutes.
However, from then it was all Bishop’s Stortford who showed their class in the final stages to steal victory.
A simple penalty from Gallagher after 62 minutes put the visitors back in front before the same player managed to force his way over for an uncoverted try to extend the lead to 29-22.
Snook was then sin-binned with 15 minutes remaining handing an ever greater advantage to the visitors. And they quickly made it count as a lightning attack resulted in Hankin racing through to score on the left-hand side with Gallagher failing to add the extras.
The visitors wrapped up proceedings with a final penalty try following a prolonged period of pressure. Gallagher slotted over the simple conversion to condemn Bury to a rather harsh 44-22 defeat.