Match-hungry rugby fans were treated to a thrilling battle by Winchester and Gosport & Fareham at the weekend after a last-minute pitch inspection ruled the game playable.
The London 2 South-West clash on a muddy but surprisingly water-free North Walls Park oozed excitement – and the odd punch-up – from start to finish and ended with a 22-22 draw.
Either side could have claimed victory in the closing stages – Winchester being on the front foot with the wind behind them and Gosport deciding against kicking a couple of possible match-winning penalties in blustery conditions.
Gos, who have only lost one match all season, had the advantage of a strong wind over the first 40 minutes and it looked as if there would only be one winner as they turned around 19-0 up.
Their first try came after five minutes from centre Matt Flower who, not long after, was yellow carded following a touchline brawl that spilled on to the sidelines, along with most players from both sides.
Gos were then awarded a penalty try from referee Richard James as Jake Hiscock was tackled before he could fall on the ball which he had punted over the Winchester line.
The home side were reduced to 14 when prop Danny Waite was sin binned for an offence at the breakdown but Winchester hung on and looked like going into the break just 12 points adrift until they conceded another try, from Chris Fields, and a conversion.
However that was cancelled out within seconds of the start of the second half as Winch produced a determined comeback. Full back Nick Fielding touched down under the posts to make Connor Breen’s conversion more straightforward and wing Tom Forster did likewise as he raced over the line following a Gosport penalty.
Winch were just eight points adrift at 22-14 but Greg Sullivan reduced that further when he sprinted over the whitewash out wide.
Winchester’s constant pressure earned them a penalty in the last minute which was made easier after it was moved ten metres closer to the posts following back chat to the referee. Breen slotted it home to set up an exciting finale over five minutes extra time.
Gosport piled on the pressure but failed to add to their tally after turning down two kickable penalties as they went in search of a bonus point win.
Winchester coach Andy Fields said: “It’s a credit to our boys that they’re disappointed not to have won, rather than delighted to have grabbed a draw. If they play the last six league games as well as they did in the second half today, we’ll end the season on a high.”
The result put a big dent in Gosport’s quest of winning the title and with it the one automatic promotion place.
Head coach Scott Ashley said: “It is more realistic to look to a play-off because we have now got to rely on other teams doing the business for us against Guilford.
“Our destiny is in our hands of course because we still have to play Guildford at Guildford and that will be the game of the season.
“I hope and like to think we won’t lose the advantage we have over the other teams (for the play-off place).”