The penultimate game of Winchester’s season was won 32 - 43 by Farnham, condemning Winch to relegation after seven seasons of League Two rugby. They will talk about this game for years to come. How Winchester scored 6 trys and were still unable to win; about a team that even their victorious opponents felt were too good for the drop.
Coach Gaz Martin, who had played a massive part in a back row that have been one of Winch’s consistent strengths this season, was frustrated by another game where victory was snatched away in a tormented second half that was “indicative of our season”.
The game had started at pace, Winch here to save the season, Farnham hoping to better their one-point home win and both teams left the ref no option but a flurry of early penalties. Winch were able to play in Farnham’s half in the early skirmishes and after a prolonged period of pressure, Matt Golding forced his way through the defensive line. The quickly recycled ball came out wide where full back Tom Forster had the alertness, agility and pace to touch down.
From the restart Farnham infringed allowing Guy Mahwood a quickly taken penalty. The ball went to the hands of Alex Lee, relentless all afternoon, and on to Golding, again through the first line of defence, but now supported by the rapacious Campbell Ettinger who slipped the ball back to Mahwood for a second try and the culmination of an excellent piece of rugby.
Farnham needed to get in to gear and a Winchester defensive malfunction at the restart allowed them to reply immediately, first with a penalty kicked by Toby Salmon, and then to an excellent second try from the restart. As soon as they received the ball Farnham’s backs ran through the floundering tackles and, with men running off the shoulder, carried the ball virtually unopposed allowing wing Joe Wigmore to touch down under the posts. So often this season Winch have looked the part, only for a defensive error to let teams stay in touch.
Winch had lost their early lead but a yellow card to Farnham gave them the opportunity to create pressure. From a wild clearing kick by Farnham’s scrum half, the ball was charged down by that man Golding, who followed it through to bring the scores level. Pressure was now back on Farnham who won a defensive scrum only for the miss pass to go awry. Ben Turner picked up and offloaded to Mahwood who cantered in under the posts unopposed. The ritual touchdown was made by Turner who finally arrived to seal a four try bonus point for Winchester.
The yellow card had cost the visitors but, another defensive blip from a Winchester scrum saw Farnham’s big Pete Daley step through touching down for a third score. The difficult conversion brought Farnham level at half time.
A first half of end to end rugby was followed by an equally riveting second half. Both sides knew that the next score was pivotal. Winch, trying to shake off the jinx of the second half collapse, pressed and battered led by captain Jim Beavan and Farnham gained momentum through the cultured boot of Toby Salmon.
It was the boot that did it, as Farnham kicking for territory allowed their big forwards to strike from deep whilst Winch tried to carry the ball up the field. Once in the Winchester half, Daley forced his way through for a converted try and Farnham took a lead they were never to relinquish.
Steve Walker and Jerry Afandari came off after a good shift to be replaced by Alex Hiscock and Oscar Ashton. Fresh legs took Winch back on the offensive and winger Alex Bayliss combined with Ashton, to score within moments of coming on.
With two points the difference, the game was there to be won but an infringement for a yellow card and a few loose words which turned it red, saw Bayliss take an early shower. Winch were forced down to 14 for the rest of the game. Farnham made good use of the extra space and within minutes their wing found the gap to go through for a fifth score. At five trys each it was Salmon who once again converted and kept Farnham in the lead.
Farnham were beginning to dominate the scrum, Mahwood was injured and replaced by Patch Cheshire who brought a cultured right foot to the ball, keeping Winch in the opposition 22. Quick play from this position let the backs show their footwork and Jesse Ribeiro, Archie Dandy, Will Wood all made ground for Kier Garner to score. Only four points the difference, and the resolve of the 14 men had been rewarded.
Winch continued to play to their patterns, creating opportunity after opportunity but not the final score that could save the season. Inevitably the 14 men of Winchester would have to defend, and it was a wide pass out to the empty wing that saw the 15 men of Farnham ultimately touch down to secure victory, with seconds left on the clock.
Did the game turn on the yellow card that turned red for a slip in discipline in the final quarter? Martin, after the game was full of praise for “the men who put heart and soul into it today, you can’t fault them for effort!”
So, did the game turn on the kicking? Farnham had managed their conversions better and this gave them the victory. Winch clearly had left points out there, but their conversion attempts were from out wide and difficult. So many little things, that over a season crimson with injury, have resulted in relegation for this talented group of players.
Coach Martin’s team have not had the rub of the green. As part of an excellent back row, he has given everything to the club in his first season. Martin believes that the game is only 5% of the week and that “for the team to move forward, the players have to live and train for that.” He will be back next season but has first the small matter of “what may be my last competitive game ever” against Gosport and Fareham to deal with.
Try : Forster, Mawhood, Golding, Turner, Ashton, Garner
Conv : Mawhood x1
Tries : 6 Conversion: 5 Penalty: 1
Updated 18:16 - 8 Apr 2018 by derek Cheshire
B Turner, A Lee, J Beavan, C Ettinger, J Afandari, M Golding, S Walker, G Martin
G Mawood, J Ribeiro, A Bayliss, A Dandy, W Wood, K Garner, T Forster
Replacements : A Hiscock, O Ashton, P Cheshire