Ampthill secured promotion to National One on Saturday afternoon as they beat an impressive Bishop’s Stortford side 19-10 at Dillingham Park, writes Ryan Lewis.
A record crowd of 1,213 were in attendance to witness the ‘Amps’ make history and secure third tier rugby for next season, making them one of the 40th highest ranked rugby clubs in England.
Tries from Matthew Burke, Viliami Ma’asi and Joseph Sproston all in the first half for the home side came either side of scores for the well-supported visitors by George Cullen and Jimmy Rea.
The hosts were however under the cosh straight from kick-off as some good hands from Stortford allowed the visitors to gain some threatening territory coupled with quick ball.
A number of five metre line-outs followed and Ampthill lock Karl Braband was brandished an early yellow for continuing to penalise as the rolling mauls were being set-up.
It was to no surprise that the visitors went for another attempt at a maul, however the defence stood firm as Stortford sensibly deciding to ship the ball into the backs’ hands.
A number of phases followed before an overlap on the right allowed full back Cullen to dot down in the corner, and it was an ideal start for the side from Hertfordshire.
After Braband returned from the bin in the 17th minute, the home side began to get their hands on the ball as fly-half Joseph Tarrant started to spot gaps in Stortford’s defence.
This meant the territory moved into Stortford’s half and a number of phases followed with the Amps just metres out.
Blindside flanker Burke was on hand to trundle his way over after some good leg power, Tarrant converted, and to the delight of the home fans, Ampthill were 7-5 ahead after the first quarter.
Referee Marcus Caton gave very few decisions in favour of the home side in the opening exchanges, but a penalty in the 28th minute allowed Paul Turner’s side to have an attacking line-out of their own.
What followed was very impressive, as the shove rumbled its way to the line for what was a trademark score for Ampthill this season from a catch and drive line-out.
Hooker Ma’asi was the man credited with the try, but there was no doubt it was an effort made and created by the whole forward pack.
Just six minutes later, another attacking maul followed and the visitors pack were able to learn from their earlier mistakes and quash the rolling maul.
However the defence didn’t hold out for much longer as front row forward Sproston burrowed his way over from a ruck, and Ampthill led 19-5 going into the half time interval.
The start of the second period showed neither side overly dominating, until on the hour when Bishop’s Stortford began to stretch the home defence.
A deliberate knock-on in the 57th minute by winger Gareth Clarke meant Ampthill were down to 14 for the second time in the match.
However unlike earlier on in the match, the visitors were unable to utilise their extra man and convert that into points on the scoreboard, as a superb effort from the home defence kept them out.
Then on the hour mark, an incident that proved to be the one that decided the match.
Referee Cullen looked to have awarded the visitors a try after Hugh Michell peeled off a five metre line-out, but after consultation with his touch judge, the man with the whistle reversed his decision after believing he lost control of the ball over the line.
With that decision going against the National Two South side, the result always looked out of their reach in the closing moments as their momentum was quashed, despite consistently getting their hands on the ball.
The visitors began to dominate scrum time though, and after winning one against their head, they flung the ball to the left wing where Rea was able to dot down inside the left touchline.
The conversion was missed and with Stortford needing two more scores in the final five minutes, their only looked like there would be one winner.
That side was Ampthill, and to the delight of those in attendance, the team in amber and maroon secured the 19-10 victory and a place in National One for next season.
Ampthill: Joseph Sproston, Viliami Ma’asi, James Wright, Palno Hehea, Karl Braband, Matthew Burke, Joseph Bercis, Maama Molitika; Gavin Williams, Joseph Tarrant, Gareth Clarke, William Goodge, Brendan Burke, Darrell Dyer, Karim Lynch.
Replacements: Lewis Brunger, Alexander Bloisi, Lee Bray, Kevin Barrett, Lee Anker.
To view June Essex’s gallery of photos from Ampthill’s history-making day, click on the link above.