When the need was greatest and with their season on the line, the Islanders delivered their best performance of the campaign, including a first half showing which approached perfection in defence and attack.
IW brought a band of travelling supporters who were outnumbered by a large home crowd to support Hook & Odiham, who were on a tremendous run of form and arguably went into this game as favourites to win and annex the league title for themselves. But it was IW who got the dream start, as the hosts failed to deal with the kick-off and conceded a penalty 10 metres out, which centre Luke Margham took quickly to snipe over for a converted try.
Hook set about settling into the game and held possession for a spell, but were met by ferocious line speed and tackling by the IW team, with Matt Spencer-Brading and Rouse Ltd man of the match Salar Bettum standing out in forcing repeated errors from the shell-shocked home side. When IW were not making dominant tackles on the gainline, they were jackalling ball at the tackle area and moving turnover ball quickly wide, where their pace was too much for Hook to handle. An 80 metre break from Owain Hooper was stopped just short by great scramble defence, but yielded a penalty kicked by Margham, who was soon cruising over for another try after great handling from the IW backs. IW unbelievably led 17-0 after eight minutes.
This pattern repeated itself for the remainder of the half, as IW met the bigger H & O pack head on and came out on top. Though the home team played with spirit and had their share of possession, they struggled to make any impression on the IW rearguard action, while the Rangers caused problems whenever they got clean ball. Bettum scored IW’s third try on the half-hour mark, which was shortly added to by speedster Tom Blowers, who had another fine game at full-back. Experienced second row and club chairman Ollie Boulter was then sin-binned in a case of mistaken identity, and the hosts took advantage to apply pressure in the IW 22 approaching half-time, which eventually led to opening their account with a try in the corner. IW led 31-5 at halftime.
Manager Dean Jennings and captain Andy White implored their charges to maintain their focus and defensive effort on the restart, and IW obliged by continuing where they left off. Biffa man of the match Gary Warvill directed the team expertly from fly-half, kicking when necessary but regularly setting IW’s exciting backs in motion. However, the spirited hosts continued to battle away in a fiercely contested but always sporting tussle, despite a serious knee injury to one of their number. They scored a good second try on 55 minutes to get within 3 scores, and the IW support began to grow slightly nervous.
They need not have worried, as the warm conditions took their toll on both sides but IW finished stronger. Margham added another penalty, and converted IW’s final try, scored by replacement George Biles after a superb passage of rugby. With 15 minutes left, IW were able to relax somewhat and enjoy the occasion, though their standards demanded that they conceded no further points. The final whistle brought jubilation and confirmation of the first silverware won by the club in 9 seasons, and a first league title for the second team.
Hook & Odiham 10 – 41 IW II
IW: Blowers, Langdon, J Spence, Margham, Hooper, Warvill, Elsom, Curran, Mitchell, Willetts, Boulter, Harrison, Bettum, Spencer-Brading, White ©. Replacements: Davey, T Groves, A Groves, Guy, Biles, Jones, N Joyce, Peckham.
IW RFC’s 1XV and 2XV conclude their league campaigns at Andover this coming Saturday.