Portsmouth take the wind out of Alton’s sails

Saturday 5th February 2022 7:00 am

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IN CHALLENGING gusty conditions, Portsmouth mastered the elements far better than the visiting Alton Silverbacks and this proved to be the difference between the sides as Pompey won 27-15 thanks largely to an early flurry of points.

Playing not far from the south coast and with a strong tailwind, Portsmouth have probably played in these conditions more than once and they blew away their visitors in the opening 15 minutes.

Their tactics were clear from very early on; they repeatedly kicked deep into Alton territory, forcing the visitors to turn.

A penalty after three minutes gave the home side the lead, and following a second penalty Alton were pushed back to deep within their own territory and Pompey arrived for the line out.

The home side had the height advantage, and an incisive jump and catch saw their forwards running around the front to score the first try.

The kicker hardly had to touch the ball for the conversion as it sailed through the posts to make it 10-0.

The Alton kick-off was almost immediately returned with interest as Portsmouth kicked deep again.

There was no intent to find touch, the kick was blasted straight down the pitch; Alton were failing to weather the storm.

A Portsmouth grubber kick this time touched a hand as it looped over the try line, and as the Alton backs stood off expecting the ball to clear the dead ball line, the right winger nipped into score.

Another fine conversion from near the touchline meant the visitors were 17-0 down with only 14 minutes played.

Portsmouth failed to gather the restart and finally Alton had an opportunity to spend some time in the home side’s territory.

With ball in hand, Alton started to show some promising signs as where Portsmouth possessed more power, the Alton backs looked to have more agility and speed.

Ed Thomas weaved through the defence, but the ball went forward, and George Lucas was brought down as he tried to find an opening from eight metres out.

Luke Parratt sensibly found Tom Smethurst from five metres out as Alton started to mount wave after wave of attacks.

The referee was becoming frequently frustrated with the amount of penalties that Portsmouth were giving away.

This allowed Alton to opt for scrum restarts where they were dominant throughout, rather than risk lineouts in the wind.

Caleb Wolfreys was tackled just short of the line and again Portsmouth were warned for offside.

Alton opted for the penalty in front of the posts and Cameron Hamer posted their first score. Portsmouth were clearly relieved to have only conceded three points.

The remainder of the half was largely played in Alton territory.

They had few opportunities to release the pressure and Portsmouth scored their third try on 35 minutes with some powerful running after a ten-metre line out.

It was 22-3 at half time but Alton were still in the game.

At the start of the second half, George Pantrey reverted to his customary scrum half role, Thomas went to full back and Alton were bolstered by changes in the pack with Mayowa Olonilua and Mark Greenhalgh coming on.

An Alton rolling maul was brought down a few metres out, but moments later, the ball popped out and Nick Stoffel scored in the corner to make it 22-8.

The match was played almost entirely in front of the Portsmouth clubhouse and they had a good view as Parratt was tackled high and Portsmouth were reduced to 14 men.

An Alton score during this sin-bin period would have created some jitters for the home side.

But Portsmouth defended well and eventually string some phases of play together to kick deep into Alton territory.

In probably their only attack of the second half, Portsmouth scored their bonus point try after a rolling maul.

Alton battled to the end, and in the final moments, Hamer breezed through the home defence to score a consolation try, but Alton were left to rue the decisive opening moments

Alton’s second team, the Blackbacks, also travelled to Portsmouth and won 24-10 against Portsmouth III to consolidate their position as league leaders in Hampshire 4.

Report by Gary Brench

Photos by Lofty Callow

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