Winchester's run of poor form continued when they lost 22 7 to Alton at a cold, wet and windy Anstey Park on Saturday
Winchester started well and looked the more enterprising team but Alton gave them a lesson in playing the simple rugby the conditions required and were good value for their win.
Winchester were missing some ballast in their pack with Adam Grant, Richard Knight, Matt Gibson and Danny Waite injured or unavailable. Liam King came in for his debut in the second row. Steven Osborne made his debut at loose head against his former club. These changes did not seem to affect Winchester early on. They were able to retain the ball through multiple phases and looked dangerous in attack. Captain and flyhalf Todd Duncan was making the most of the strong wind and gaining good field position. However, Alton were putting in an organised and committed display and chances were few and far between. After 17 minutes Winchester finally made something of their possession when Campbell Ettinger took a great inside ball from scrum-half Ben Gardner and powered straight through the middle of a ruck. He kept his composure, looked left and fed Angus Adamson who finished under the posts. Spencer Edwards converted for a 7 – 0 lead.
Winchester continued to press and controlled the ball in the Alton 22 for long periods but were unable to come away with any points. The lineout, normally such a reliable source of possession, was faltering in the blustery conditions. One well-controlled lineout catch and drive saw Alton cynically pulldown the more inches from their line. Their hooker was sin binned but Winchester were unable to capitalise against 14 men. The half ended with Winchester battering away at the Alton line once more but again they were unable to cross the try line.
This proved to be crucial in the second half. With the wind behind them Alton began to control the opposition and the ball for long periods. Winchester lost tighthead prop Tom Williams to injury and were now struggling to produce set piece ball from either scrum or lineout. Alton kept things simple and made very few mistakes. Their fly half controlled the game excellently and kept his side going forward. His pack worked their socks off. Their dominance told when they scored a pushover try which was converted to level the scores at 7 - 7.
Winchester then began to upset the referee and conceded a succession of needless penalties. Alton kicked one of these to extend their lead to 10 - 7. With their tails up and their vociferous home support behind them Alton now began to dominate the game. A well constructed catch and drive saw them extend their lead to 17 - 7 and with Winchester now down to 14 following a sin binning for James Barritt the win now looked beyond them. Alton rubbed yet more salt into the wounds with a try from the final play of the day and celebrated a deserved 22 – 7 win.
There were few bright spots on the day when Winchester were yet again outfought and outplayed. However Steve Osborne and winger Tim Clarke looked like being valuable additions to the squad and battled hard all day. Head coach Andy Fields was at a loss to explain such a poor second-half performance. ‘At half-time I thought there was a good chance we would go on and win the game. Alton thought otherwise and our confidence drained quickly when it was clear they would fight back at us. Alton thoroughly deserved their win for the way they fought and played the conditions. We need to take a serious look at ourselves and establish why we have lost the momentum we built up before Christmas’.