US Portsmouth 11 Andover 22
In a bruising and at times brutal encounter, Oakwood sponsored Andover overcame the challenge of both an artificial pitch and fast physical opponents to cement their place as leaders of Snows Hampshire Division One at Burnaby road last Saturday.
In a must win game for both sides the tension was palpable throughout and eventually it got too much for US when their player coach Simon Burns was red carded for a horrific stamp on the head of Andover skipper Alex Morgan.
Morgan required several stiches to a face wound after the game and Burns is sure to face a lengthy ban for an action that put paid to his sides brave comeback challenge in this game.
Despite their first team pitch being in perfect condition US chose to play on the Navy’s 4G surface which they have not lost on before.
The advantage they hoped for however did not materialise, as the pace and power of the Andover side was actually helped by the true surface, even if its abrasive nature caused a number of painful injuries.
The game began at a frenetic pace as US tried to blast Andover away in the early stages and after just two minutes they were rewarded with a penalty after Andover transgressed at a ruck.
Far from daunted Andover showed why they are such a good side as they immediately roared back at US.
Superb work on the floor from Tom Erskine saw Andy franklin and Paul Tuinsakea combine, to set Sam Froggett away for a trademark try.
From the kick off however US should have immediately retaken the lead after slack play from the visitors left them with a simple penalty chance.
They were soon left to rue this missed opportunity though, as the enigmatic Jack Stott seized on a loose pass to dance through the US defence and score a wonderful try.
Andover then suffered a blow when hooker Tom Waite caught his foot in the surface and was forced off with injury.
A reshuffle saw second team prop Craig Allen take the field and show just why he is such a promising player.
Andover continued to dominate the scrums and after a series of forward drives Franklin again fed Tuinasakea who smashed his way over to score to give Andover a 15-3 lead at the break.
Froggett like Waite succumbed to a similar injury and had to be replaced by Dave Catt as the Andover resources became stretched.
Predictably US came out of the blocks quickly in the second half and put Andover under pressure and after just five minutes reduced the arrears with a neat try in the corner.
Andover orchestrated by the tactically astute Callum Staff at stand off did not panic however and defended magnificently for a fifteen minute spell which saw US with lots of possession but little penetration.
The frustration was growing in them and as Andover remained stubborn, both sides received a yellow card after a fracas which was a sign of things to come.
The game went to uncontested scrums for the ten minutes which favoured US but they could still not break through and although they narrowed the gap with a penalty Andover looked like they had weathered the storm.
Then came the moment of madness from Burns which finally dashed their hopes and Andover took full advantage.
Simon Preece added pace and fine link play from the bench as Andover went all out for the bonus point try.
As the clock wore down Andover attacked mercilessly and US despite desperate defence could not hold them out.
An excellent lineout take from Marc Wilding saw the ball flash to Staff and his deft pass to James Dawson gave the centre a chance he would not miss.
Rich Retallick added the conversion and that was that.
Afterwards Coach Andy Waite said “We were superb today especially in defence. Sometimes you have to man up to win tight games and we did just that against very good and determined opponents.”
“The sending off came from sheer frustration and in the end we got what we just about deserved.”
“I am so proud of the players and I want to single out Craig Allen and Matt Moore in particular who both stepped up to the plate when it really mattered and did a fantastic job for the club.”
All images copyright www.kwoodlandphotography.co.uk