London South West 3
Winchester (20) 42
Try: Forster x2, Mawhood, Golding, Turner, Ribeiro, Afandari Cons: Tolan x2 Pens Tolan 1
Old Whitgiftians (14) 35
Try: Lewis, Starns x2, Chriscuolo, Hall Cons Clark x5
Winchester 1st XV put 42 points past Old Whitgiftians, staying 5 points clear at the top of the table with an unbeaten run of eight games; but OW’s ran them close, coming within two points after being 14 – 37 down at one stage.
With only two points in it, this was a game that would have been lost last season. However, chastened by that run of narrow defeats, Winch dug in and played controlled rugby to put the game away. Another try by Jerry Afandari, his second on the left wing in successive games, suggests that he may be wasted in the second row.
If Captain Jim Beavan was concerned about Winchester’s poor starts away from home, the message was understood by fantastic full back Tom Forster. Receiving the ball deep in his own half Forster ran through the entire OW’s team to touch down. Five points ahead in under a minute!
The try lifted the team whose noisy, powerful forward play was dominating their opponents. Winchester got a second after Jake Hiscock broke the line, passing to Jesse Ribeiro on the wing. Ribeiro ran 50 metres, finally offloading to Guy Mawhood who completed a text book rugby move.
After two glorious unconverted trys, Winch looked in complete control, but their game started to unravel as OW’s back line found their feet. Defending within his own 22, OW’s Chris Starms unpicked the Winchester defence. His length of the field run, supported and completed by scrum half Matt Clark, shook Winchester.
With confidence refreshed, Starms did it again, jinking his way through a sluggish defence, linking up to score himself. Both trys were converted and OW’s took the lead.
For the next ten minutes Winch looked surprisingly disjointed as they fought to get back in the game. A penalty kick by Josh Tolan put them close and as OW’s over eager scrum half was sin binned, they were penalised again. Winchester won the scrum; Matt Golding picked and ran in a reaping arc under the posts. Tolan’s conversion put Winchester ahead, 20 -14 at the interval.
At the restart Winchester’s forward pack, sensing their advantage, applied pressure to regain control of the game. An attacking lineout ball was won and Winchester’s Ben Turner carried it over OW’s line for the bonus point try. OW’s hooker was yellow carded and the game reduced to uncontested scrums for 10 minutes.
With a man advantage Winchester scored twice. Greg Sullivan’s wide pass to Ribeiro resulted in a 40 metre dash and a fifth try. The sixth, starting in their own 22, showed that Winch can score from anywhere. Sullivan stepped through the gain line, Hiscock took it twenty metres, his offload to Tolan was carried forward and the dangerous running of Forster completed the move.
As they entered the last quarter and with a heavy defeat looming, OW’s back line took the game in hand with an audacious passage of play. Their elusive runners unpicked Winchester’s ragged defence. Starms ran with his head up, looking for space and finding it. His line breaks and pace out wide ripped control from Winchester. Three converted scores later, now only a two point difference, Winchester down to 14 men, Whitgiftians could have caused the upset of the season.
But in the final minutes Winch salvaged a game where previously they would have buckled. The forwards gathered the restart and kept the ball close, working their way down field before releasing Afandari to score in the corner. It was a chastening end to an immensely frustrating performance by the league leaders.
Winchester have the forwards to control a game at this level and the backs to exploit their dominance. Today they scored seven glorious trys but were severely tested in defence, conceding 21 unanswered points to a side with one victory this season. Confidence comes with winning but today it also looked tenuous as their cavalier passing and sloppy defence was exploited. With the ball in hand, going forward, there is not a better team in the league, but today they let the other team back in, and only just managed to scrabble home.
Winchester 1ST XV
Ben Turner, Chris Searle, Jim Beavan – Captain, Campbell Ettinger, Jerry Afandari, Gaz Martin, Dan Beagan, Matthew Golding
Guy Mawhood, Greg Sullivan, Jesse Ribiero, Josh Tolan, Jake Hiscock, Alex Bayliss, Tom Forster
Josh Juleff, Olly Pope, Piran Crago