Winchester 21 – 15 Eastleigh
Two penalties were the difference in a close encounter for Winchester as they won 21 – 15 against local rivals Eastleigh in the first game of the new year. for. After a typically dominant first half where they scored two penalties and a penalty try with the lion’s share of territory and possession, coach Gareth Martin’s improving side will be pleased to have shrugged off the curse of defeat in the second half.
As Martin maintained “When you play against a tough team like Eastleigh, who pride themselves on a dogged performance and who are scrapping for their lives; there is only winning or losing! It doesn’t matter how you do it.” Winch are themselves perilously close to the relegation zone and whilst this four point win keeps their heads up, Eastleigh slip to the bottom of the league, with only two wins and a draw from 13 games.
Winchester’s powerful forwards provided a strong first half platform, forcing two penalties in front of the posts which kicker Ollie Dunger duly scored. In charge at both set pieces they repeatedly threatened the line before referee Neil Sweeney awarded them a penalty try, as Eastleigh collapsed a successful scrum drive. Eastleigh forwards, under pressure for most of the game lost two players to the bin in the first half. Martin was impressed “by the guts and toughness shown by our big players.” Alex Lee, Matt Golding, Campbell Ettinger, Rob Rees and Captain Jim Beavan imposed themselves on the game but their pressure came at a cost, as Rob Rees was helped off injured at the stroke of half time.
Now 13 points to 3 ahead Martin asserted “We had put ourselves in a position to win the game; that’s the first and most important thing. I wanted see how they could keep it going and close out the game.” Winchester had looked much the better of the two sides and simply had to “tidy ourselves up, focus on our skills and keep calm in the red zone.”
It is always a game of two halves and it was Eastleigh’s back line who provided the shock that galvanised them into action, as they ran in a try from the restart, Will Rigelsford touching down in the corner. It was the culmination of a sweeping move; Eastleigh had realised that if they were outgunned up front then the best hope lay in the physicality of their backs.
The conversion was missed but with only one score now separating the two teams, it was Winchester’s time to defend. Eastleigh began to exploit the potential in their running game and to compete in the scrums, their half backs kicked deep, turning Winch who struggled for the third quarter and were pushed back into the 22, repeatedly guilty of playing too much rugby in their own half.
Winchester began to regroup as flankers Alec Hiscock and Steve Walker closed down the Eastleigh ball carriers. Hiscock, back into rugby after a two year lay off, was tireless and Walker, as he always does, played close to the edge. It was his superb diving steal to recover opposition ball, to regain his feet and offload, that set in motion the try that put Winch back in the driving seat. The turnover ball went quickly to the right wing where Charlie Preston shimmied and stepped the defence before finally offloading unselfishly to Guy Mawood, who touched down.
The conversion was missed, but Winch were 10 points to the good. Within seconds they went down a man, as Walker was sent to the bin for side entry to a ruck. With one of their most significant predators out of the game, Winch again succumbed to the pressure, as Steffan Murray touched down and fly half Phil Baldwin converted to put Eastleigh within 3 points.
It was a testing time for Winch who have slipped up at the death so many times this season. Coach Martin “Every team has it’s way and we were outgunned in the backs, but, by the end, we had our backs making physical tackles against their backs and forwards.” Winch supporters cheered as their team ground out the last 10 minutes. Winch kept them at a distance, recovered their composure, kept the ball in their opponents half, and forced mistakes. It was an Eastleigh infringement that yielded the final penalty allowing Dunger to strike sweetly from 30 metres with a kick that ended Winchester’s run of three defeats.
Coach Martin was typically upbeat at the end “One of our values is we serve the team. We had guys injured in the warm up, in the game, but our determination to stay together got us over the line. We have got to keep grinding away, keep competing. There are tougher tests to come and the next four weeks will see some crazy results.” They won’t come much harder than next weeks game, away to runaway league leaders Camberley who have slipped up just once this season. They put 70 points passed Eastleigh whilst Winch held them within 10 points in their first encounter. They will do well to improve on this, but with such an oddly shaped ball, well you never know!
Trys – Mawood, Penalty
Penalties - Dunger x3
Trys – Rigelsford, Murray
Conversion – Baldwin
Penalty – Baldwin
A Lee, J Edwards, J Beavan, M Golding, C Ettinger, A Hiscock, S Walker, R Rees, G Mawood, J Tolan, O Ashton, A Bayliss, O Cook, C Preston, O Dunger
Subs: J Afandari, T Williams, J Mitchell
Updated 17:29 - 7 Jan 2018 by derek Cheshire