by Derek Cheshire

A poor second-half performance cost Winch’ against bottom-of-the-league Eagles.

Player/coach Greg Sullivan, side-lined through injury for the season, watched the game unravel after a dominant first-half performance, at the end of which Winch’ led 8 – 0.

“We could have put them away in the first half, with the territory and possession we enjoyed, but the boys weren’t clinical enough against a very experienced side, who know what they are doing,” said Sullivan. “Eagles fly-half, Brian Collins, was the smartest man on the field.”

Winchester’s forwards had the opposition on the back foot in the scrum and the lineout started well with Matt Golding and Sam Hadlington getting clean ball from hooker Alex Lee.

Rob Rees was back and caused mayhem every time he got his hands on the ball.

With a 30-metre penalty pushed through the posts by full-back Ollie Dunger, Winch took an early and convincing lead.

Their backs, with Alex Bayliss returning to forge a new combination at centre, and Tom Forster and Ollie Cook on the wings, looked threatening when they got the ball.

The rampaging runs of Golding and Rees made their presence felt from the rucks and mauls but dropped ball and forward passes limited opportunities.

It was a scrappy affair; amongst the catalogue of errors, the otherwise excellent referee, Neil Sweeney, thwarted a certain try, by obstructing play, as Guy Mawhood slipped through for a Winchester touch down.

Winch were out of sorts and out of luck but Eagles seemed to have little to counter their efforts.

When Rees picked up from the base of the scrum, driving over the line for his trademark try to put Winch 8-0 up, the odds were with the home team Winch were pinned in their own half during the third quarter as Eagles played an outstanding display of controlled rugby.

They seldom threatened the Winchester line, but effectively prevented Winch’ from playing and kept the game in their opponent’s half Experienced No 10 Brian Collins took every opportunity to kick his team into territory, singlehandedly winning the game for them with a penalty and two beautifully taken drop goals.

As the field goals slid through the uprights, Eagles sensed their second victory this season.

Winch rallied at the end.

Captain Jim Beavan and hooker Alex Lee pounded down the left wing with crisp inter-passing only for the final pass to be judged forward.

During a riveting last quarter Winch tested the opposition in every area.

In the last minute the game looked like it might fall Winchester’s way as Eagles gave away a penalty 30 metres to the right of the posts.

Dunger’s kick, in the gathering gloom, looked true but bounced from the left upright into the arms of Collins who cleared his line.

Coach Gareth Martin mused: “If you play the team that are bottom of the league, and look for a kick to win it at the death, then it’s not gone well in the previous 79 minutes.

“Eagles are tough lads, they have been kicked around at the bottom of the league. In the second half, they saw an opportunity and took it. It wasn’t pretty but it was effective. We had a young side up against a very streetwise team of older guys.”

Winch could not be faulted for effort. They are four points and three places off the bottom ahead of their trip to Farnham on December 9.

Winchester: Turner, Lee, Beavan, Hadlington, Golding, Hiscock, Walker, Rees, Mawhood, Preston, Cook, Bayliss, Dandy, Forster, Dunger Replacements: T Williams, J Tolan, J Afandari