Winchester’s season saving victory was so nearly there today. The players gave their all for the club, only to have victory ripped from their grasp, 24 points to 17, in the final moments of a rousing relegation dogfight with Effingham & Leatherhead Eagles.
After Tom Forster and Guy Mawood crossed in a bright start for the visitors, Eagles clawed back two scores with their only incursions into opposition territory. The Eagles kicker was having a bad day, and Winchester led 10 – 12 at half time, courtesy of Mawoods conversion.
After the interval Winch continued to play really well for 30 minutes, Steve Walker getting the converted try that took them a score ahead. Winch kept the pressure on the home side and could have had two further scores, only for a pass to be judged forward and a ball dropped when they were over the line.
But once again it was veteran flyhalf Brian Collins who stole the game, after Winchester had led throughout the match. Collins had kicked his side to a one point away win at North Walls and Winchester had done well to neutralise his effectiveness today; but in the last 10 minutes he stepped through the defence to tie the scores and created the platform for a last-minute touchdown. Eagles have had their problems this season, but the reliable Collins and the return of coach Dan Blythe, has steadied the ship; with this win Eagles now look safe from relegation.
It felt like the end of the world for Winch, who have lost so many games in the final moments, in a season where injury and the lack of momentum have driven them deeply into relegation trouble.
After another highly competent performance, in a game that could have brought greater reward, Winch are looking like the seasons most accomplished also-rans.
“It was one of those games where we got 85% of it right, but just couldn’t close it out” said coach Greg Sullivan after the game. “If you look at our results, the amount of games we have been winning at half time, that we have lost by a score or less …. Well, we just can’t seem to close a game out.”
If games that have been lost by a score had been won, Winch would be sitting third in this excellent league. Their pack have been their consistent strength with the excellent back row of Walker, Matt Golding and player coach Gareth Martin providing the wide cover today against Eagles big rangy backs. The return of the experienced Chris Searle, brought consistency to the line out, and the front five dominated the set pieces.
The first score, after Martin collected the ball at the lineout, was a wonderful back’s move. Fly half Jesse Ribeiro delayed his pass wide to centre Will Wood, who cut through the defence before finding Forster who dragged the defender in, touching down at the corner.
Eagles had been under the cosh and a yellow card put them a man down. A Winch scrum, picked up at the back by Martin and fed to Mawood, led to the simplest of touchdowns, putting Winch 5 – 12 ahead. It was almost the perfect half until with a couple of ineffective tackles Winch let Eagles wing Joe Triegaardt sweep through to keep the scores close. Winch had played most of the rugby, their set piece was dominant and although they had probably left a couple of scores out there, they led 10 – 12 at half time.
For the next thirty minutes Winch came out and played proficient rugby, managing an unfortunate yellow card competently, getting out of danger and keeping the pressure on in the Eagles half of the field. Tolan kicked a penalty down the line and Searles accurate throw found Martin who kept the ball close until the pack had made sufficient metres for the outstanding Steve Walker to crash through with a score that saw Winch 7 points ahead. But Eagles proved a difficult team to put away; they just stay in games.
Sullivan acknowledged that the game slipped in the last minutes “We stood up well (in defence) on our own goal line…. But we didn’t get the middle of the field right, which let them back in, to put pressure on.” Where Winch failed to kick long and stay out of trouble, Collins put his team in the green grass behind, forcing errors. Finally within range, he stepped his opposite defender, to touch down under the posts. After three misses he was relieved of kicking duty, but Patrick McDougal brought the scores level.
Eagles took the ball well at the restart and carried it through the phases until, with a final blow that saw them home, their hooker Joe Brown touched down for the bonus point. Sullivan “We are understandably disappointed … the effort was superb, the lads got so many things right today and, for a relegation dogfight, this was a quality game!” Winchester had played so well today, but as they approach the end of a deeply frustrating season, their fate is almost out of their hands.
Calm and objective, Sullivan contended “Down in this dogfight, Eastleigh and Andover are still in touching distance, Tonbridge may be drawn back into it, so there is still all to play for….. and the good news is that our last two games are at home.”
Try: Forster, Mawood, Walker
A Lee, C Searle, J Beavan, C Ettinger, J Afandari, M Golding, S Walker, G Martin
G Mawood, J Ribeiro, A Bayliss, J Tolan, W Wood, K Garner, T Forster
B Turner, D Began, A Dandy
Updated 13:29 - 25 Mar 2018 by derek Cheshire