Sunday 14 January saw Alton Under 16’s welcome the current Hampshire champions Winchester in their penultimate league fixture.
Last season honours were even with both teams winning closely contested home fixtures and another strongly contested match was expected.
For once Alton started strongly playing up the Anstey Park slope and put Winchester on the back foot. They confidently went through the phases securing quick ball from the breakdown and quickly found themselves knocking on the opposition try line. After a couple unsuccessful attempts to drive over the line the Alton scrum half saw an opportunity to exploit a gap in the defence and put through a beautifully weighted grubber kick for himself which he would have scored from had he not been tackled without the ball. The referee responded with a yellow card for the offender and a penalty try to put Alton 7 0 up. From the restart Alton secured possession as they looked to exploit the extra man advantage. Before long they were back in the opposition 22 and after several powerful drives by the forwards were again on the opposition try line. This time they breached the defence with the blindside flanker diving over several prone bodies to increase the lead to 12 0. Having secured the initiative Alton needed to keep up the accuracy and intensity of their play, however, they lost their shape and discipline as Winchester started to impose themselves. Alton were now under pressure and were getting penalised for infringements in the breakdown area and conceding territory and possession. Winchester were well and truly on top at this stage and put the Alton defence under immense pressure for several minutes and it was no surprise when they eventually broke through and score in the corner to make the score 12 5. Winchester were in the ascendency at this stage and it was no surprise when after another infringement at the breakdown the Alton 9 was sin binned. Despite being a player down and Winchester knocking on the door to draw the scores level just before half time the Alton defence prevailed and were relieved to hear the half time whistle.
Winchester initially started the 2nd half as they finished the first looking to take advantage of their numerical advantage. Much to Alton’s credit they stuck manfully to their defensive duties and prevented Winchester from scoring. When parity was restored in terms of numbers Alton began to turn the tide and apply pressure on the Winchester defence. As soon as they started to dominate possession and secure quick ball for the backs it was only a matter of time before they would score through their left winger to extend their lead to 17 5. From the restart they secured possession and went through several phases to again set themselves up in the Winchester half. As they progressed into the opposition 22 the fly half saw an opportunity to put through a clever kick for the Alton inside centre to score in the corner to make the score 22 5. The game was not over though as Winchester again started to impose themselves on the game and it was no surprise that they soon created space to score a converted try to make it 22 12. It was now the time for the away side to quickly secure possession and go through the solid passages of play. They moved the ball left and right as they looked to find the gap that would lead to a further try. Alton’s full back prevented a scoring opportunity for the Winchester right wing who looked to be in the clear to score but for a great try saving tackle taking man and ball into touch. From the resulting Alton throw in Alton secured the ball but their clearing kick was received by their centre who fed their elusive left winger who scored to close the gap to 5 points with minutes remaining. Winchester now knew they had the chance to grab an unexpected win. From the restart they claimed the ball and moved into the Alton half. Several phases of play saw the away side set up in the Alton 22 but some more determined defence saw Alton steal the ball only for them to uncharacteristically knock on in the contact area. From the resulting Winchester scrum they made one last attempt to score and looked to have done so only for the Alton full back to make one more last decisive tackle and the ball ended up in touch.
A great game of rugby played in the right spirit.
Next up Andover on the 28th.