Winchester travelled to Reigate on Saturday with high hopes of a season-defining win. Of the eight matches against Old Reigatian since the two clubs came together in the RFU’s London 2 South-West league in 2013, Reigatian had won five and scored 180 points and Winchester had won three and scored 167 points. Close rivals, indeed.
With four games of the new season played, Reigatian were joint top of the table with Camberley, but three of their four wins had been against sides in the bottom half. Winch were definitely in with a chance.
But it was not to be. Winch returned home with their tails between their legs, losers by 48-15, eight tries to three.
Coach Gareth Martin, who played at No 8, was not going to blame the absence of eight or nine of his regulars for reasons of injury or social commitments: “This team is like the little girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead: when we’re good, we’re very, very good, but when we’re bad we’re horrid. Today we were horrid.”
The injury list lengthened five minutes into the second half, with winger Alex Baylis taken to hospital with a suspected sternum fracture. It turned out to be fractured ribs, a haematoma and tissue damage to his diaphragm, which will keep him out for several weeks (but did not deter him from texting the team bus to tell his fellow players which Winchester pub he would meet them in).
For the rest of the game, back-row forward Frank Bagnall gave a more or less convincing imitation of an outside centre.
The number of absentees, the reshuffle following Baylis’s injury, the loss of stand-in fly-half Josh Tolan and Martin himself towards the end with head knocks, and the introduction of a debutant, Ollie Dunger, on the wing all contributed to Winchester’s looking less like a cohesive team than their followers have come to expect.
Dunger, at only just 20, looks a very promising prospect for the future. A utility back who learned his rugby in Winchester’s Minis and Juniors until he was 15, he went to Canford School, where he was recruited to the Bath academy. He is now taking a gap year before university, and fitted in well.
Martin’s “horrid” is perhaps a little harsh. After all, when Reigatian allowed Winch to put some phases together they did score three tries, two for flanker Steve Walker and one for second row Matt Golding. The problem was that for the rest of the game Reigatian successfully prevented the visitors from playing as they can. And the second half, in which two Reigatian players were yellow-carded, was much tighter than the first at 12-5, despite Winchester’s injury problems.
Reigatian clearly deserve their position at the top of the table. They had injury problems of their own, and like Winchester played several players in unfamiliar positions. Nevertheless they were strong in the set-pieces and open play, both in attack and in defence. Their tries were scored by full-back Drew Williamson, flanker Will Godwin, lock Finn McLaughlin, No 8 Mike Blackshaw and scrum-half Alex Skinner with a hat-trick. Gale converted four of them.
Winchester are due to play Eastleigh at North Walls Park in the Hampshire Cup this Saturday, and their following two league fixtures are against Old Tonbridgeans, currently 10th in the table, and third-placed Twickenham. Perhaps when November comes Martin will have a longer list of fit players to choose from.
Tom Forster, Alex Baylis, Guy Mawhood, Alex Yeates, Ollie Dunger; Josh Tolan, Oscar Ashton; Alex Lee, James Edwards, Jim Beavan, Matt Golding, Jerry Alfandari, Alex Hiscock, Steve Walker, Gareth Martin
Tom Williams, Frank Bagnall, Ben Turner
Tries Walker (2), Golding
Updated 05:59 - 20 Oct 2017 by Brian Challis