Seemingly on course for a severe beating after an abject first-half display, the Islanders were transformed in the second half and just about overhauled the stunned hosts in a dramatic finish.
A disrupted build-up as the team were directed to the wrong venue did not help IW, but that should not be used as an excuse for comfortably their worst 40 minutes of a stellar season to date.
Under pressure at the scrum and lacking quality possession, they struggled to get their attacking game under way. However, it was in defence where the Islanders were really found wanting, disorganised and showing collectively poor tackle technique, with a few honourable exceptions. Captain and Biffa Man of the Day, Matt Hallam, was also forced off through injury early on. None of this is to take away from an impressive home side, coming off an 86-0 win the previous week, whose handling was impressive and running was powerful and direct.
This pattern of play allowed the hosts to build a 22-0 lead courtesy of 4 tries in the first half-hour. The one bright spot for IW in the half was thanks to a crunching Joss Spence tackle, which forced the ball loose for Luke Margham to race clear and touch down for a converted try. Yet Millbrook/Stoneham finished the half in the ascendancy, and exploited further sub-par IW defence to score with the last play of the half, giving them a 29-7 lead.
IW started the second half with several switches in personnel and a rollicking from manager Dean Jennings ringing in their ears, and the desired effect was achieved. A key moment came straight from the kick-off as replacement Matt Spencer-Brading pressurised the catcher, who spilled the ball and allowed the young IW flanker to touch down under the posts. The match was now much more competitive, with IW improving in the scrums and defending with more commitment, along with some more threatening attack of their own.
Yet it was the home side who scored next, taking a 34-14 lead. Again looking down and out, IW were indebted to Margham, who scored an outrageous individual try to bring them back into the game. With precious few options around him, the fly-half chipped over the cover, leapt over the full-back to collect the ball, and swivelled clear to touch down to the amazement of all spectators.
20 minutes remained and IW were within 2 scores and had momentum and some territory. They soon scored again courtesy of Rouse Ltd Man of the Match Harry Elsom, and the conversion brought them within a converted try of the lead. Though Millbrook/Stoneham still had their share of the play and were testing the visitors, IW were running everything from deep, and a flowing length of the field move eventually led to a try from a close-range drive by Tom Turtle. With the kick, IW now led 35-34 with only a few minutes to play.
In an atmosphere of fervent excitement, the hosts roared back and forced an overlap to score in the corner, seemingly deflating the young IW side. Yet there was one more twist left, as the ball was moved right from their own 22, and speedster Tom Blowers sliced through the 13 channel to race clear for the winning score. Margham added his sixth conversion to set the seal on a remarkable comeback.
IW now enjoy a week off before hosting Portsmouth III on 17th November.
Millbrook & Stoneham II 39 | 42 IW II
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