Andover 36 Eastleigh 12
It was a day of high emotion and drama at the Goodship ground last Saturday, as Oakwood sponsored Andover sent a firm message that they are right in the promotion hunt.
Top of the table Eastleigh came with high expectation, but were sent packing by the young ‘All Blacks’ side in emphatic fashion, leaving club chairman Shaun Rule grinning like a Cheshire cat on the occasion of his 60th birthday and 40th anniversary of his association with the club.
It was more the manner of this victory than the result that impressed, as Andover dispatched a very good Eastleigh side, with a calmness and authority that belied the young average age of the team.
Already without skipper Alex Morgan and talisman Marc Wilding both sidelined with injury during the week, things looked bleak for Andover when after just twenty minutes they also lost influential second row Tom Erskine to a shoulder injury.
But this Andover group is growing in depth and stature by the day, and the way they coped with these set backs up front, against a very powerful set of Eastleigh forwards, was impressive to say the least.
In the front five, Castro Sievewright and Alex Hibidge were in awesome form, and when Matt Moore replaced Erskine, to join Nic Reed in the engine room, there was no respite for Eastleigh.
Young flankers Ash Gait and Billy Pollard both shone around the park and the impressive Simon Preece, produced a tireless performance, as Andover at first stifled and then overran the Eastleigh forward effort.
The Eastleigh game plan was to match Andover up front and use their excellent backs to win the game.
If they never quite got parity up front, they seriously underestimated the Andover three quarters, excellently marshalled by James Dawson and Andy Franklin, who more than matched them throughout.
Charlie Waite was peppered with the high balls early on, but simply ran everything back with interest and when he opened the scoring, outpacing the cover easily to pounce on Nico Rowe’s grubber kick, the warning signs were there for the visitors.
Eastleigh reacted well though and soon showed why they are a top side, scoring a neat converted try under the Andover posts to take the lead.
Andover were stung into action and laid siege to the Eastleigh defence, who held firm for a time.
Once again though Rowe was the provider, undoing Eastleigh with a superb offload that set hooker Tom Waite through to score a lovely try, converted by his brother Charlie.
Just before half time, Eastleigh pulled down a maul in midfield and the yellow card that followed was compounded, when Charlie Waite slotted the penalty.
After the break with slope in favour and against fourteen men Andover went for the throat.
As Eastleigh threw a loose pass out wide, Dawson collected neatly and set off a stunning handling move that saw the ever improving Elliott Copestake set Sam Froggett away for a lovely score, converted by Charlie Waite.
Just moments later, Andover were at it again, securing the try bonus point with a breathtaking piece of play.
Alex Kane started the move with an excellent kick and with Rowe again in the thick of it, the ball flashed to Reed, onto Moore and then Preece, before Kane finished the job superbly, with Charlie Waite again converting.
Eastleigh were stunned, but realised a bonus point was still within reach and soon had Andover on the back foot.
They scored a second try from a catch and drive, but could not find another way through as Andover, not for the first time recently, defended stoutly.
Then came the coups de grace.
Tom Waite had been a thorn in Eastleigh’s side all game and when he stole the ball in the loose and set Froggett away for a trademark second try, again converted by Charlie Waite, that was that.
Afterwards Coach Andy Waite was very happy for his team.
“I cannot begin to say how proud I am of these lads” hes said. “They were so good. We asked them to step up with the injuries we had and all through the side, they took responsibility.They played their hearts out, but in a disciplined and controlled way that ultimately won us the game.”
“I was especially pleased for Sammy Froggett and his family. To see him get two superb tries on the day we honoured his recently passed dad Barry, was wonderful and I know Barry would have loved it.”
Next week Andover take on improving Trojans away kick off at 2.00pm.