A thrilling Winchester comeback came up just short as Eastleigh hung on to win by a point in Saturday’s London 2 South West local derby.

Both teams started the game brightly and judging by the parry and riposte in the early exchanges both teams looked like they had come to play as they slugged it out with character and commitment in front of a vocal Bishopstoke matchday crowd. Though missing five or six regular first team players through injury and unavailability, including skipper Jim Beavan, Winchester came out full of belief in themselves and their game plan.

Eastleigh opened the scoring with Simon Morgan slotting an early penalty when referee Dave Mealing, on exchange from the Somerset Society, pinged the Winchester tacklers for not releasing at the breakdown. From the restart and a superb turnover from flanker Gus Adamson prop Alex Lee powered up-field. Desperate Eastleigh defenders then found themselves on the wrong side of the referee’s whistle. Matt Golding has settled well into the Winchester captaincy and had no hesitation in pointing to the posts. Josh Tolan calmly stroked the penalty through the uprights to bring the scores level.

Winchester were briefly back in the groove and their opening try was a cracker. Hooker Matt Bailey’s throw was taken cleanly by Gaz Martin at the tail of the line-out. Scrum half Tom Forster fizzed the ball to Tolan whose sumptuous off-load in midfield set Mark Hill through the gap. With Jamie Sarginson arriving on his shoulder to provide the wheels to finish the job. Tolan added the extras to take Winchester to 11-3.

Number eight Matt Horne was amongst Eastleigh’s most influential figures and it was from his surge into the Winchester half that Winchester were again deemed to have infringed in the tackle area by referee Mealing, whose avid and punctilious decision-making at the breakdown was becoming a key factor in the shape of the game. Morgan called for his kicking tee and added the three points to take the score to 11-6 at half time.

Morgan, whose fourteen-point haul proved critical, added two further penalties with Winchester again penalised by the referee for breakdown indiscipline. Eastleigh’s tails were up having nosed into a 12-11 lead and to the delight of the home support they were enjoying possession and territory. Winger Chris Buckett gathered a clearance on half-way and set off cross-field to link with Horne, an imposing back rower, who powered over in the corner. Morgan added the conversion from the touchline to take the score to 19-11.

From the restart it was Eastleigh who were deemed to have infringed, much to the frustration of the referee who called the captains together to warn both teams against further indiscipline. Tolan’s measured punt put the Winchester pack into the corner. The Winchester forwards, were now metres from the Eastleigh try-line. Hooker Matt Bailey’s throw found Matt Lown at the top of his leap and the ensuing maul was driven to the line. Ben Turner fell on the ball, the referee stooped and with a shrill blow awarded Winchester their second try. The conversion brought the score to 19-18.

The Winchester support sensed an astonishing comeback against their local rivals but Eastleigh held on in the final minutes to edge this madcap local derby by the closest of margins 19-18.

Captain Matt Golding refused to use Winchester’s injury concerns as an excuse adding “the game could have gone either way at the end; it could have been a win, but the fact is the team, especially the younger players, again showed immense character”.