A STRONG forwards effort proved central to Reading Abbey's 24-12 bonus-point victory at Stow-on-the-Wold in Southern Counties North on Saturday.

Abbey shaded the initial skirmishes, but it was the home side who took the lead courtesy of a magnificent solo try from centre James Holmes.

However, Luke Harding's visitors levelled matters on 19 minutes, No. 8 Max Courtnage battering his way over following good carries from pack comrades George House, Maurice O'Connell and Ross Orrburns.

Abbey moved ahead shortly afterwards when a 20-metre break from wing Charlie Shackleford established good field position in the Stow 22, and after skipper Will Bevan and Chris Shaw shifted the ball to the right, Courtnage plunged over in the corner for his second try of the game.

Shackleford again missed the conversion, but after 26 minutes Abbey were 10-5 in front.

Stow were given a boost as their opponents were reduced to 14 men when centre Dan Love was sin-binned for straying offside twice in his own 22, but after turning down a shot at goal, they could not breach the Abbey defence and went into half-time trailing by five points.

A sensational last-ditch tackle from Courtnage preserved the Abbey lead at the start of the second period, and the away side turned the screw when Bevan went over for their third try of the afternoon after Stow second row Max Fisher was yellow carded.

Shackleford found his range from the tee to nudge Abbey 12 points in front, but Stow hit back on 52 minutes when centre Archie Hayward cut a good line to cross the whitewash.

A superb conversion from Jake Collett reduced the arrears to 17-12, and for the only time in the game, Abbey looked vulnerable.

A big tackle from prop Adam Postlehwaite – who enjoyed an excellent afternoon – turned the momentum, and with Treacle Knights and Ed Woodger returning to the pack, Abbey regained control.

Superb drives won the visitors consecutive strikes against the head, and from the second of these Abbey engineered their bonus-point try.

Brooker made the initial ground just inside the home 22, and then the supporting Stevenson timed his pass to perfection, giving Knights the opportunity to race the final 10 metres to the line.

Shackleford landed the extras, and despite losing house to the sin-bin for the last five minutes, Abbey held on for a well-earned win.

Reading Abbey host Wallingford this Saturday.

l THIRD-PLACED Berkshire Shire Hall return to BB&O Championship action following a three-week break with a trip to Phoenix on Saturday.