With five wins from the first five games in London South West 3, league leaders Winchester will be kicking themselves that they failed to capitalise by turning second half pressure into an additional bonus point, winning 26 points to 14 at Old Tiffinians.
“That’s the hardest we have been pushed this season” said captain Jim Beavan “We fought for every point, we played the extremely testing conditions well and our defence was superb”.
Both teams started the game brightly and judging by the parry and riposte in the early exchanges both teams looked like they had come to play as they slugged it out with character and commitment in atrocious conditions.
Winchester made an encouraging start when fly half Jesse Ribeiro found Matt Golding on his inside shoulder. A sumptuous delayed pass sent the Winchester number eight racing into Tiffs’ 22. Referee Callum George, on exchange from the Warwickshire Society, pinged the Tiffs tacklers for not releasing. Skipper Beavan pointed to the posts and Josh Tolan calmly stroked the penalty through the uprights.
Scrum-half Guy Mawhood was a quick-witted handful throughout and it was a pin-point box kick that led to Winchester’s first try. The chasing Matt Harling took the ball on the full and burst infield to link with centre Jake Hiscock. The tackles were made, and the Tiffs defence held, but it was the jackal Alex Baylis, always in the thick of it, coming in from the wing to play at blindside, who was on hand to secure possession and recycle. Phase after phase, Winchester hammered at the Tiffs line. First loose-head prop Ben Turner then fellow prop Beavan, but it was second row Alex Lee who crashed over the whitewash. Tolan converted to take Winchester ten points clear.
The lead could have been extended shortly afterwards, but it was not to be. With Tiffs deemed offside in midfield Tolan’s measured punt put the Winchester pack into the corner. The flanker Gareth Martin took the lineout cleanly and was driven to the line. The pack celebrated the score only to be denied by the referee who, although initially unsighted, adjudged that the ball had been held up over the line.
However, it wasn’t going to be a complete performance from Winchester as they again illustrated their frustrating habit of allowing opponents back into the match when they appear to be in complete control.
Spurred by this early setback, Tiffs roused themselves and it was a try by centre Josh Graham, converted by George Taylor, that brought them to within three with the score at seven points to ten.
The Winchester forwards, having enjoyed the upper hand in the scrummage exchanges, were not fazed when Tiffs, awarded a penalty deep in the Winchester 22, elected to take a scrum rather than the three points available. The referee, who had not inspired confidence in the management of the set-piece throughout the game, allowed the scrum to wheel, putting Winchester at a huge disadvantage. The Tiffs number eight Ben Lawrence was sharp to exploit this indecision and gathered from the base to dive over. Ed McCrorie added the extras from wide out to take Tiffs into a four-point lead at 14-10.
Winchester reduced the deficit going into half-time to one point with a penalty by Ribeiro, who had taken over kicking duties from the injured Tolan.
A confident Tiffs were first out after the interval but it was Winchester who put their foot to the floor in the second half and threatened to score early on with a glorious twinkle-toed break from Tom Forster who was stopped only by a last-ditch tackle. With Winchester dominating territory and possession Tiffs were under the cosh with constant infringements testing the patience of referee George. The try soon came when Tiffs strayed offside allowing Tolan to put his pack into the corner. Jerry Alfandari took the ball cleanly and this time the drive was direct, clinical and effective with hooker Chris Searle claiming the try. Tolan’s conversion was caught in the gusting wind and sailed wide. Winchester’s four- point lead was extended to seven with Tolan slotting a penalty awarded for Tiffs handling in the ruck.
Soon afterwards, any hopes of a comeback for the Londoners were thwarted when the referee, who had already spoken to the Tiffs captain about his team’s discipline, reached to his pocket to produce a yellow card in response to the constant niggling and bickering. With a Tiffs player in the sin-bin, winger Keir Garner found space on the left. Fielding a Tiffs clearance Garner surged up the wing before linking with Forster. Forster found the pack thundering in support and, with Golding hauled down short, the ball was recycled to the charging Searle who took three defenders over the line for his second try. Tolan’s conversion drifted wide.
With a twelve-point lead Winchester tails were up and the home side were creaking. But with Winchester pounding away at their line the Tiffs defence held firm to deny Winchester the four-try bonus point. Winchester winning 26-14 the referee blew for no side. All in all a result to warm the cockles on a wet and windy day. Coach Gareth Martin said “We were not happy at half-time. The second half was better. We were far more direct, got quicker ball and put them under pressure from there”.
Winchester team-list: Tom Forster; Keir Garner, Jake Hiscock, Josh Tolan, Matt Harling; Jesse Ribeiro, Guy Mawhood; Ben Turner, Chris Searle, Jim Beavan, Alex Lee, Jerry Alfandari, Alex Baylis, Gareth Martin, Matt Golding. Replacements Ollie Pope, Sam Bailey, Matt Wood
Tries Lee, Searle (2)
Conversions Tolan 1
Penalties Tolan 2, Ribeiro 1