IN THEIR first competitive match under full laws for 18 months, Winchester were away to Basingstoke, and came home with a 66-0 win under their belts, writes Tim Fell.

Basingstoke are one level below Winchester in the RFU’s league structure, and this was their third, and Winchester’s first, pre-season friendly.

Winchester was without their captain and tight-head prop Jim Beavan, their hooker Chris Searle, recovering from back surgery, their powerful number eight second row Rob Rees and several other experienced players, and the result was not a foregone conclusion.

Matt Golding captained from number eight.

The clubs had agreed that they would play three 30-minute sessions, with their substitutes coming on and off as the two coaches decided.

Hampshire referee Zach Kinnaird blew the starting whistle two minutes before the official kick-off time of 3pm.

Winchester, wearing their new strip given to them by the club sponsor Winchester Motor Company, caught the ball and fed it out to their speedy left wing Jasper Brenham-Williams, a former international youth player for Singapore, who ran over in the corner and round to touch down under the posts.

Fly-half Josh Tolan’s conversion made in 7-0, with the clock only just striking three o'clock.

There followed a period of the two teams’ sounding each other out, and several knock-ons and offside offences.

Basingstoke had a big and well-drilled pack, but Winchester was holding its own in the set scrums and taking some opposition ball in the lineout.

From a scrum near the left touchline, Golding picked up, the back-line moved right, and full-back Tom Forster was over for the second try.

With hardly a pause, Winchester were scoring again, this time through scrum-half Connor Breen, who had one of the best games Winchester’s travelling supporters could remember him playing, marred only by his constant verbal attempts to wind up the opposition.

14 minutes gone, and with two more successful conversions from Tolan, the score stood at 21-0 to Winchester.

Basingstoke came the closest to scoring all afternoon when Golding again picked up at the base of the scrum, only for his back-of-the hand offload to be intercepted by the Basingstoke 10.

Winchester were caught offside, and Basingstoke kicked to the corner.

Second-row Matt Lown, Winchester’s oldest player, who was excellent throughout, stole the ball, allowing Tolan to gain a full 50 metres with a towering kick to touch.

Two more phases, Winchester mauled from a lineout on Basingstoke’s five-metre line and hooker Matt Bailey was over for the fourth try.

For once, Tolan missed the conversion, but as referee Kinnaird blew up for the first interval Winchester were 26-0 ahead.

As in the first session, Winchester scored within seconds of the kick-off, catching their own kick-off and feeding Golding as he galloped up the touchline in his best imitation of a winger to touch down in the corner.

Tolan’s conversion kick was his only other failure. The score was 31-0.

Both coaches began to deploy their benches.

Injuries, thankfully none serious, brought both team’s physios on and outstanding moments in the stop-start second session were few.

Tolan missed a penalty from far out on the right, Winchester knocked-on on their own five-metre line, Brenham-Williams again showed his speed down the touchline, substitute Louie Powers took a heavy hit from a Basingstoke forward and came off winded and rubbing his left shoulder.

Max Burns, another substitute, made a wonderful ankle-height tackle on a Basingstoke back-row forward, and only in the last minute of the session did Winchester score again.

A typical bit of twinkletoes running by Forster up the right touchline and a long pass led to an attack up the middle, and from the breakdown open-side flanker Sam Hamilton broke through for a try under the posts.

Kinnaird blew up for the second break with Winchester 45-0 ahead.

With substitutes still coming and going, Winchester became dominant again.

Five phases from the restart, Golding gave a beautiful offload to put Tom Banks, just up from the Winchester Academy, into at the corner.

Tolan, back in his swing, converted.

Just time to get their breath back and winger Rory McTaggart, an off-season recruit from Salisbury, was in under the posts. 52-0.

Not satisfied with only one, McTaggart was the next to score, a cut-out pass to him from inside-centre Greg Sullivan allowing him to go over midway between the posts and the corner to score his second, Tolan’s conversion made it 59-0.

Banks rounded off an emphatic win for Winchester with his second, again converted by Tolan.

Winchester’s pace, deft handling skills and superiority in the set pieces had treated their supporters to a feast of tries in the September sunshine.

They play Wimborne away this coming Saturday in their second pre-season friendly, and will face Chiswick away and Chobham at home in their first two league matches on Saturday September 18 and Saturday, September 25.

“Basingstoke relied more on their physical strength, while we balanced our with pace and handling skills”, said Winchester coach Gaz Martin after the game.

“We had five players under the age of 20, and that augurs well for our future.

"And our bench players showed that they can compete for selection to start the game, too.”

In the meantime, a mixture of second team and veterans played a full-strength Millbrook at home, losing 31-41.

The following day, Winchester Mini and Junior rugby took off again.

Club chairman Steve Barrow said: “We had bumper numbers, welcoming girls and boys aged five to 16.

Parents new to rugby or recently moved to the area should see our website for full details or just pitch up with their children for the sessions that run from 10 am to noon every Sunday.

"All that’s required is suitable clothing and footwear.

"New starters should come about 9.30am to complete some basic paperwork and then enjoy free taster sessions on the following two Sundays.”