IW were delighted to come out on the right side of a close encounter after a couple of recent narrow defeats and played well in patches, though with plenty of room for improvement.
Winchester’s second team came to the Island as rank outsiders and the bottom team in Hampshire One, having given several walkovers already this season. However, they belied their lowly status with a display which showed what they are capable of when they do raise a side, and were within a couple of minutes of earning a draw or victory, having to settle for 2 bonus points in the end.
With a young side and plenty of pace in the backs, Winchester were first to score with a converted try inside 8 minutes, a wake-up call for the Islanders whose tackling was poor in those early minutes.
Lewis Murray’s penalty narrowed the deficit, before both sides swapped missed kicks at goal. IW had much the better of the scrums with Rouse Ltd Man of the Match Martin Newnham to the fore, but the forward battle in general was a tight one though IW had a slight edge in territory in the first half. They struggled to break down the visiting defence at first, guilty of sometimes forcing passes and leading to handling errors which limited continuity. Eventually, some superb handling under pressure by the backline gave wing Martin Smith enough space to expertly touch down in the corner. Murray landed the touchline conversion, but Winchester soon kicked a penalty goal which levelled the scores at 10-10 at halftime.
IW knew they needed to maintain possession through phases better on the restart, and as the forwards got on top, the hosts would dominate the third quarter. A highlight was a superb rolling maul which travelled all of 40 metres before Andy Brown touched down. The same player was soon crashing over for his second, adding a dummy pass and sidestep for good measure. IW now led 22-10 and a comfortable bonus point win seemed likely.
The reality proved different as the game turned drastically on a couple of key moments. IW looked like scoring their fourth try with a overlap on the blindside, but the final pass didn’t go to hand and the loose ball was scooped up by the Winchester centre, whose blistering pace saw him go the length of the field for a try. A couple of minutes later, a virtual carbon copy saw Biffa Player of the Day Alex Augustus’s final pass intercepted by the same opposition player, who completed his hat-trick by again racing 90 metres to touch down. Instead of a 20+ points lead, IW now trailed 24-22.
To IW’s credit, they responded to these hammer blows, with Augustus steadying the ship from fly-half. After some strong driving play, full-back Connor Grant took the ball at pace and broke a couple of tackles for a great score. Murray’s conversion gave IW a 5-point lead, but Winchester recovered the re-start and IW were unable to contain their dangerous backs, who engineered another try. It went unconverted leaving the score 29-29 with four minutes remaining.
Again IW retorted well, forcing the mainland defence to infringe and giving Murray a chance to restore the lead. His kick was unerring and IW saw out the remaining minutes in relative comfort to secure a hard-earned victory.
They now welcome second-placed Farnborough to the Rec on 1st December. Likewise the club’s second team, who received a walkover from Portsmouth III.