League rugby returned to Wootton Rec for the first time in 18 months, but Isle of Wight were unable to mark the occasion with a victory as they came out on the wrong side of a hard-fought contest with Portsmouth RFC’s second team.
With a number of enforced changes from their league opener, IW’s early season injury woes continued, as for the second successive week their selected scrum-half was unable to play. Harry Elsom’s place went to Mark Waterer, who performed with great credit.
The early stages of this match made it clear that there was little between the sides, 2 strong packs mostly cancelling each other out, though IW had the advantage in most of the scrums. In the backs, Portsmouth had some flyers who posed IW problems, and they exploited some sub-standard tackling to score from inside their own half to lead 7-0.
Influential back rower Ed Lynch was next to sustain injury, forced off after 10 minutes. The rest of the half was uneventful in terms of the scoreboard, though both sides posed problems with strong driving play and big carries. Biffa man of the match Dan Bishop and Callum Pudney were effective ball carriers in the second row, while stand-in captain David Blackman made several important tackles.
If Portsmouth had edged the first half in attacking threat and territory, the second half was a different story, as IW spent long periods in the visitors’ half. Crucially, though the forwards got on top, they met with a stubborn rearguard action from their counterparts, while IW’s backline play was hampered by lack of cohesion and individual errors. After a long period of pressure which saw Luke Blackman held up over the line, a promising IW move broke down and one of Portsmouth’s speedsters ran the length of the pitch to touch down, a harsh blow for the hosts.
IW resumed their territorial dominance and finally converted this to points, as a lineout catch and drive ended with 13 Islanders mauling over the line, Keith Wallace getting the try. George Huish’s conversion attempt struck the post and IW still trailed 14-5, but had time to recover the situation. Yet more chances went begging, most notably when Fountain Inn man of the match Huish seemed to have scored, but the referee adjudged that he had not grounded the ball after an astonishing last-ditch tackle. Almost inevitably, Portsmouth lifted the siege and put the game to bed when producing a powerful scrum effort at just the right time, leading to their third try, the game’s final score.
Though performing with credit, especially in the pack, IW will need to be much more clinical in the opposing 22 to win games this season. The firsts travel to Fareham Heathens next, while the seconds go to Trojans, having received a walkover from Andover.
IW: Huish, M Joyce, Webster, D Blackman ©, C Browne, Marriott, Waterer, Puzey, Bennett, Newnham, D Bishop, Pudney, Wallace, Lynch, L Blackman. Replacements: Keyes, S Browne, Dixon.
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