Andover 24 Solent University 12
Oakwood sponsored Andover cranked up the pressure at the top of Snows Hampshire division one with an excellent performance against fellow high fliers Solent University.
It wasn’t without cost though as ever present front row giant Alex Hibdige dislocated his shoulder and will be out for the rest of the season.
On the plus side Andover fielded ex academy graduate Tom Erskine, in the second row and his pace around the park combined with his size and power showed that he can become a real star back at his home club.
Andover were much changed in the backs for the third week in a row with centres James Dawson and Niko Rowe both missing along with full back Rick Retallick and the influential Callum Staff.
Such is the depth of the squad now though, they were able to welcome back Sam Froggett and Dave Catt from illness and injury, Jake Kane for his second game at this level and ex skipper Dan Pearson for his seasonal first team debut.
Andover began the game sharply and were straight on the attack.
After just five minutes a superb series of forward drives led to Marc Wilding and Erskine combining to set Paul Tuinasakea over in the corner. Martin Smiles converted superbly from wide out to take full advantage.
From the restart Andover were sloppy and were fortunate when a straight forward Solent penalty chance was pushed wide.
Andover took the game back to the visitors despite going up the slope and with a dominant scrum and lineout began to apply real pressure on the Solent line.
Solent defended stoutly but Andover should have added to their score a couple of times and were nearly made to pay.
On the half hour prop Nic Reed crashed through from a lineout for a fine converted try to extend the lead, but Solent showed immediately why they are a top side with a well worked try of their own before the break.
Straight after the break as Andover faltered Solent seemed to take the initiative with a second converted try out wide to get within two points.
They attacked frantically, but with man of the match Elliott Copestake really coming of age at full back, Andover defended well.
Solent had their tails up and a scrum in the Andover 22, but with powerhouse Carl Sievewright now deputising for Hibdige on the unfamiliar loose head side of the scrum, Andover performed a feat of strength that took the wind out of Solent sails and their belief away.
As Tom Waite took the ball against the head, the Andover pack drove their opponents back at least twenty metres winning a penalty and dealing a crushing blow from which Solent never recovered.
Andover went back on the attack and it was Solent’s turn to defend desperately.
With fifteen minutes left the lively Catt was taken out off the ball when certain to score and although no yellow card followed, Andover went for broke from the resulting penalty.
A series of scrums and mauls deep in the Solent 22 finally broke them down as Waite burrowed over for a try.
With ten minutes left Andover went all out for the bonus point and in desperation Solent received a yellow card at a ruck under the posts.
Andover predictably elected to scrummage and almost sprinted over the line for Marc Wilding to touch down for the extra point, much to the delight of the large noisy crowd.
Referee James Alver, who’d had a good game himself, blew for full time and another classic game at the Goodship was over.
Afterwards coach Andy Waite was happy and relieved “That was some game.” He said. “The top end of this division is so tough, but we now have the strength in depth and quality that is needed.”
“The loss of Alex is a blow but hopefully he will be back fit for pre-season.”
“We signed Tom Erskine on deadline day last week after three seasons playing higher level rugby and his return is another piece in the jigsaw as we look to push for promotion.”
“Next week we have another belter away to US Portsmouth, so we’ve achieved nothing so far, but we will be back to full strength and we’re really looking forward to it.“