The results may have gone against them recently, but this is not a team in decline. This was a valiant effort in a game where young players discover the challenge of first team rugby. In the first half, when Winchester had dominant possession, they didn’t capitalise on the opportunities, choosing to kick for position when Exiles racked up the penalties. Points would have kept them in the game as Exiles repeatedly offended in all areas and saw a succession of players yellow carded.
Player/coach Gareth Martin, side-lined after 30 minutes, had been part of a forward pack that had imposed themselves on the opposition. “We had dominated but were unable to capitalise with trys that we should have scored. Our thought was, they were a man down in the scrum, we were pushing them back. Then you simply have to score, which is what we didn’t do. That will come with time.”
As the match progressed Exiles began to look a more experienced and dangerous outfit than Winch can muster at the moment, with powerful runners in the backs. They appeared capable of creating opportunities when they got the ball. When they finally got their act together they avidly took the few chances they were given. Martin noted “We made four mistakes and they scored four trys. That’s what good teams, teams that have been together for a while, do – and that is going to be us.”
When Winch were really under the cosh, three trys down and struggling for territory they played some of their most determined rugby. Unable to kick for position with confidence, they slowly worked the ball upfield, until finally they were within striking distance. The forwards dragged the opposition into contact and the backs shifted the game from side to side. A run and pass from Archie Dandy to the returning Spencer Edwards was repaid with an exceptional offload for Dandy to touch down in the corner. It was an excellent score. But as the game moved into the final stages, three trys to one down and still within distance of a meaningful bonus point, the positional changes, some lapses of concentration and resolve took their toll and Winch were punished on the scoreline.
After the game Martin was upbeat in his assessment of his team. “Our team of teenagers has got growing pains. As a young team we are progressing every week.” Martin singled out Guy Mawhood who had a fantastic game at scrum half and Oscar Ashton, on the wing. “Oscar is our lightest player but plays intensely physical rugby. When you have that, everything else we can coach. I don’t have a worry in the world with these players.”
The forwards are the one area with experience and maturity in the squad. The return of James Edwards, Steve Walker, Frank Bagnall alongside Captain Jim Beavan adds a cutting edge to the team. Martin, joining the ranks of the injured today, singled Matt Golding as one of the emerging players around which the team can focus. “As young as he is, to come out and dominate, for a big man he is smart, with great hands …. he is growing into a prominent footballer.”
If the blend of experienced players and youth is finding it hard, Martin remains optimistic “The players have got to stick together, and tough it out. We said we were 17 players down four weeks ago and that the next set of games was going to be extremely difficult …. this team gets better, closer as a unit every week, and I don’t have a problem with any of that.” Martin emphasised how important it is for everyone in the club to get behind their team. As he said “There is many a slip between cup and lip … and that’s where we are right now!”
T Forster, O Ashton, S Edwards, A Dandy, J Covu, C Preston, G Mawhood, , T Williams, J Edwards, J Beavan, C Ettinger, J Afandari, M Golding, S Walker, G Martin
Replacements : M Harling, S Hadlington, F Bagnall, B Turner
Try: A Dandy
Penalties: C Preston x2
Updated 09:29 - 14 Nov 2017 by Brian Challis