ANDY CARTLIDGE could hardly have made had a worse start as first XV coach for Berks/Bucks & Oxon Premier leaders Stow-on-the-Wold.

“I took over at the start of last season and when we lost our first five matches it nearly finished me as a coach,” he admitted.

Cartlidge survived in the job as his side went on a seven-game winning run, but the flaws in his often free-scoring side – they famously scored 102 points against Hungerford last term – emerged again and their rise up the table petered out.

It is a much more consistent Stow side which heads the table after 11 wins from as many games this campaign and an impressive points tally of 575 for and 65 against.

It’s the right hand column that pleases former club captain Cartlidge the most.

“I’m very pleased we have only conceded 60-plus points,” he said. “It is a collective effort and we have a very good squad, the key being they have been together now for four or five years.

“Last season we did not quite have the desire and our sights were not set high, but before the start of this season we set out our goals and winning the title and gaining promotion to the Southern Counties League was the main thing that came out.”

Cartlidge can still rely on the goal-kicking of Nick Cafearo and also highlights the contribution of Craig Chapman at No.8.

“Craig is an extremely important player for us at No.8. He scores lot of tries and is hated by everyone he plays against,” said the coach.

Stow can look with pride at their successful youth policy, although for Cartlidge it is proving almost too successful.

Ollie Thorley, Will Goodrich-Clarke and Tom Lushington are part of a strong youthful Gloucester side but, as the coach said: “Now they are part of the Gloucester Academy, they will never play for me at Stow.”

He does, however, have access to juniors who are not quite good enough to go to Gloucester – like George Roddan. “George is one of the younger players to join the core group and he is having a really good season,” said Cartlidge, a contract manager from Northleach. “He is proving a very valuable player for the club this season.” The club’s almost unblemished success – Stow have lost just one game this season against Whitehall in the cup – does have its pitfalls, especially when the victories are easy week in and week out.

“We need to have some tougher games to help us prepare for the next level,” insisted Cartlidge. “We all know that scoring almost 600 points at the expense of just 60 makes this a freak season.”