1st XV Lose
Shock defeat to relegated team
Gosport & Fareham RFC 15 Winchester RFC 12
The start of a new season heralds a time of new beginnings, regeneration, something different. With four Hampshire teams in London South West 2 Winchester can expect some tasty derby games. The fixture schedule duly delivered with 3 in the first 3 games.
First up was an away game to recently relegated Gosport and Fareham. Gos, no doubt still smarting from a season from hell that saw them relegated, and aiming to impress their supporters in the first home match of the season, were gifted the points by Winch, who handed them the game in the second half.
After a pre-season that was so encouraging for Winch, with three outstanding victories, they began with control and authority only to see it slip away with indiscipline, inaccuracy and poor decisions in a second half where they could and should have put Gos to the sword. As their control slipped Gosport developed the confidence to take the game to Winch and in the end ran out worthy victors.
If Winch weren’t quite in free fall when new coach Gareth Martin arrived they have undoubtedly looked a different side since his arrival. At training and in these warm up games there has been a new dynamism, a cutting edge had been restored. The coach’s input had challenged the culture, the way they train, the way they think and brought spirit to the side.
So, on a beautiful but windswept pitch Winchester ran out full of optimism. They fielded a pack whose significant experience contrasted with a backline featuring four debutants, three of whom were colts.
The mix seemed to work and Winch played a game of superbly structured rugby for the first twenty minutes. Pressing hard in attack, forcing the opposition into penalties they dominated the scrum and lineouts – regularly turning Gos over. Matt Golding, looking fully recovered from his injury last season, ruled the air and the half back combination of Oscar Ashton and Greg Sullivan passed and probed the space in front of them.
Gosport didn’t use the breeze allowing Winchester’s attacking centres Josh Tolan and Harry Johnston to force their way through the defensive line. Johnston, who kicked all of their points, started the season with a 26 metre penalty in the face of the wind. He followed up with two more excellent penalties, taking Winch 9 points clear before he was yellow carded for an accumulation of infringements.
At half time Winch had nine points, one yellow and Zach Kinnaird injured to be replaced by Alex Day. Gosport had their share of injury, yellow cards and a three point penalty. They hadn’t looked in the game but had managed to hold Winchester out when under intense pressure on their tryline. Perhaps that was where the seed of hope happened; where Gosport, beaten so many times last season, felt they were in with a chance of effecting a turnaround.
The second half was as night is to day as Winch struggled to find their rhythm. The forwards were working hard and the big men were now taking the ball down the narrow channels. The problem was they were accumulating penalties and Gos were able to recover ground. Winch were struggling to play the territory game which, with the wind now behind them, should have given them a kicking advantage.
Frustration and indiscipline crept in as Winch racked up the penalties as the ref blew up quickly and regularly. They found it hard to keep the ball and had very few phases before they were penalised. Exceptional defensive sets were undermined by thoughtless decisions and frustrating penalties. There can be few games on record where Winchester have been guilty of so many infringements. Captain Alex Lee was carded, Josh Tolan left the field injured but with Jake Hiscock making a welcome return to fitness it was still all to play for.
But then the comedy of errors took a serious turn as Gosport’s confidence grew and they pressed Winch back on their own tryline. From a five metre defensive scrum that Winch had dominated, a pass back for a regulation clearing kick somehow went up in the air and the only person to react quickly was Gosport’s number nine Wes Dugan who fell on the ball for five points. The conversion was nailed by Alex Duncombe and amazingly, Gosport suddenly found themselves ahead.
Winch still had the confidence and belief to take the game to Gosport but somehow things had changed. Their back three were out of the game; the forwards were struggling to create coherent phase ball. Penalties made the game a scrappy affair, organisation had gone. Nevertheless, when Johnston kicked a penalty to briefly take Winch into a twelve points to ten lead it seemed that they would recover, that they could regain the dominance shown earlier.
Rugby is not simply a physical game. It’s a game of head and heart and Gosport, so long the losers last season, turned a corner and pressurised Winchester into mistakes. The final try, when it came, seemed to be a kick overhead to nowhere. Winch had no one near the ball. The Gosport number eight Tim Snowden, showing commitment and belief, stepped through to slam the ball down for a last-minute winning try.
A final score 15 – 12 to the home side and with only a losing bonus point to show, the Winchester dressing room will have been a dark place after this the first game of the season. What will be needed now is the refreshing honesty to build on a defeat that should not have been.