A potential Banana Skin avoided
Saturday 31st August saw Gosport & Fareham RFC taking on Sandown & Shanklin (S&S) at their home ground in the first round of the Hampshire Bowl competition. The coaches and players all knew this was not going to be a nice relaxing trip to the Island, as S&S are a formidable team at home and are a match for any team on their day.
Gosport & Fareham (G&F) were looking to build on a very beneficial outing against local neighbours Fareham Heathens on Tuesday night. Preparations for the game were not plain sailing with changes having to be made on Friday evening, however the squad remained up-beat and ready for the challenge which lay ahead - special mention goes to Iain Woodhouse who answered the call to represent the team at short notice. For followers of G&F this team may not be as recognisable as those which have gone before, this was due to injuries and non-availabilities. There was however, an exciting mix of new, old, young and experienced players which allowed for an exciting game of rugby. There were first team debuts for Iain Grice and Tom Bell who both performed very well as did all the players.
In the first half G&F were playing with the wind on their back and the slope was to their left and we had the first kick of the 2019/20 competition. From the kick off, S&S showed their intentions by trying to move the ball wide early to test our defence. Our defence stood strong though and we were able to apply the pressure and force an early error. Through this new look team, we started with pace and intensity, putting the S&S defence under a considerable amount of pressure and if it were not for a little bit more accuracy or less of a defensive determination from S&S, G&F would have been ahead on the scoreboard earlier than they were. From a coaching perspective it was pleasing to see the structures and processes we had developed throughout pre-season being put into practice. G&F’s dominance within the scrum put a lot of pressure on an inexperienced S&S No.8 and this allowed Matt Forfar to stifle their ball from the base of the scrum preventing any go forward. Through hard running and good interplay between forwards and back we crossed to the hosts try line after 7 minutes with a strong run from prop Jordan Carter which was converted by the returning Dom Holling. As the first half progressed frustrations started to grow and an awkward tension was building.
Unfortunately, our discipline started to sway and off the back of 5 penalties conceded in the first half, we conceded our first points of the season 16 minutes into the match. The score came from a series of penalties, which then lead to a kick to touch by S&S which missed its target, a ball which looked to be going dead held up in the wind and dropped in the try area and the typical unpredictable bounce of the rugby ball took it away from a Gosport player and a good chase by a S&S player allowed him to touch the ball down for a try, this was successfully converted.
G&F regrouped however and started to re-apply the pressure which resulted in Dom Holling kicking a further 3 points on 22 minutes from a resulting penalty.
G&F continued to press the S&S defensive line and after good movement and running on and off the ball, Ian White crossed the line on 32 minutes in the corner for G&F’s second try of the afternoon, successfully converted by Dom Holling from the touchline. With confidence restored the players continued to play at pace and the new look back row ensured Gosport retained the upper hand in the game. This pressure resulted in Shaun Taylor crossing the white wash in the corner at the stroke of half time following a set piece move showing, you can still score from first phase ball. Unfortunately, this time the conversion was missed meaning G&F went in at half time 7-22 ahead.
After half time we knew S&S would come out with a point to prove, their intensity increased and they carried hard, G&F stayed in the fight matching the intensity in defence and repelling attack after attack. S&S were awarded a line-out and they setup a very strong and quick moving maul from the resulting line-out. G&F were unable to stop it and ended up conceding a penalty and Max Page was shown a Yellow card for the associated offence. S&S continued to apply pressure from line-outs and hard forward running. G&F put their bodies on their line but it was due to the lack of numbers that S&S crossed our line for a second time 10 minutes into the second half. The conversion was missed making the scores 12-22.
Following the huddle under the posts, G&F re-grouped and regained the upper hand and prevented any further assaults on our line. Iain Grice once again was close to crossing the line in the corner but again, last gasp defence prevented him from scoring on his debut. The tension from the first half continued, so much so it split over, a melee occurred and unfortunately one of the S&S players saw red and then shown red by the referee! This brought a fraught end to the game however we did not allow it to affect our focus and our fitness showed to the very end by stretching the S&S defence and ensuring we had cover at the breakdown and we made the opposition work really hard to gain any ground.
So, G&F avoided that tricky banana skin of Sandown & Shanklin and progress into the next round of the cup, where their opposition is likely to be Millbrook at their ground in November.
Whilst this performance was not the finished article, there are lots of positives to take forward into the pending season from, individual performances to the implementation of the structure and processes that we have developed during pre-season. We will now turn our attention for the first league fixture of the season where we welcome Old Tiffinians to Gosport Park on Saturday 14th September (1500 kick off).
Come along and show your support.