Alton earn first win of the season

Saturday 12th November 2022 7:00 am
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Captain Karter Whittock on the run for Alton Silverbacks during their 64-10 defeat against Winchester
Action from an Alton Rugby Club match earlier this season (Alton Rugby Club )

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Andover 22 Alton 27: Alton Silverbacks will certainly remember, remember the fifth of November as they recorded the first win of the season.

Again, struggling with injuries, they were able to field only a 16-man squad and despite dominating the game for long periods, it appeared this lack of cover might prove their undoing.

But they mounted an incredible late comeback to clinch a fully-deserved victory.

This was undoubtedly Alton’s best performance of the season as they controlled territory and possession for long periods, playing a simple, uncomplicated brand of rugby straight from the start.

Andover were able to cling on throughout the game only through their dominance of the scrum set piece, and if it were not for that, the result would surely have been far more emphatic.

If Andover had any thoughts that this would be a straightforward result, they were blown up in smoke in the first 15 minutes as Alton started the game at a searing pace.

Tyler Smith set the tone with some scorching runs right from the outset, and backs and forwards combined well to create several early opportunities.

Eventually Smith found a gap and blazed an unstoppable trail to open the scoring with a converted try after just seven minutes.

In the fixture last season, Andover were too strong in the line out, but here again Alton dominated through the aerial ability of Ben Burrage and after a penalty for taking a man out in the air, Joe Gwyther converted for Alton to lead 10-0.

Shortly afterwards, another lineout infringement was conceded by Andover and this time the front row was sinbinned as the hosts looked increasingly frustrated.

Immediately spaces opened, Gwyther combined with Josh Richardson who released Oli Fielder who was too hot to handle, as he took several defenders over the line with him to extend the lead to 17-0.

Andover were looking increasingly desperate for anything to spark their game into life, but they took solace from the fact their scrum weapon was always their likely route back into the match.

And from their first venture inside the Alton red zone, they powered over.

Hooker Karter Whittock went off for some treatment with a reoccurring rib injury as the fiery Andover pack elected to opt for scrums on every occasion, eventually creating an opening for their backs to score a well-worked try shortly before half time.

At 17-12, Andover were back in the game.

Alton were now able to benefit from a strong wind in the second half but coupled with a heavy drizzle, the ball was proving to be increasingly difficult to handle by both sides. Consequently, that meant more scrums.

Alton camped down deep inside Andover territory. Tom Smethurst twice went close, once losing the ball just over the line and then the ball was held up over the line on another occasion.

Alton knew another score was essential, particularly after losing the corresponding fixture last season with the last play of the game.

But the score would not come, and with an innocuous kick through, the Andover full back gathered and despite all the Alton pressure, it was the home side who took the lead with a score under the posts.

Was history about to repeat itself?

It was a major blow for Alton and the game seemed to be up as they then had a player sinbinned for a deliberate knock on as the home side went in search of the decisive score.

A further penalty for Andover stretched their lead to five points, but when all seemed lost, Gareth Schreuder found a way to incredibly breathe fire into the embers one last time.

It was an incredible passage of play from the scrum half. Firstly he jinked his way into midfield and as he approached halfway, Schreuder launched a superb 50:22 kick to within five metres of the Andover line.

The resultant lineout was lost to Andover, but Schreuder again bravely jackalled over the ball to secure a penalty and then with a quick tap penalty, he dived over the line to level the scores at 22-22.

Gwyther kicked the conversion and Alton had taken the lead.

Andover’s misery compounded as their ill-discipline resulted in a penalty for Alton, who once again put pressure on the hosts line with a few minutes remaining and they maintained a stranglehold for the rest of the match.

After conceding a penalty, Andover’s backs gathered under their posts knowing they needed to run the full length of the pitch to avoid defeat.

As Gwyther strode forward to take the kick, his concentration was broken by a disrespectful comment from the Andover touchline – and the referee decided the kick should be retaken. Gwyther converted and Alton had won 27-22.

Apart from scrummaging, Alton may need to consider practicing simple arithmetic in training.

When the final whistle went it seemed strange that the Alton team were not wildly celebrating their first win of a hard-fought season.

As they gathered in midfield, most of the team had thought the game had been drawn – but with confirmation from the sidelines, realisation finally settled in that they had prevailed in a blaze of glory.

Today (Saturday), Alton are at home to Bournemouth II at Anstey Park (2.30pm).

Gary Brench

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