Winchester 32-6 Witney

Winchester RFC welcomed Witney RFC from Oxfordshire last Saturday in the tenth round of the RFU’s Central South 2 league.

It was the first time the two clubs had played each other at men’s first-team level, so the result was hard to predict. 

After an excellent lunch in the clubhouse, and with the rain holding off, a large crowd watched what eventually turned out to be a memorable victory for Winchester.

Within the first three minutes, Witney had stolen the ball at a Winchester lineout, and the Hampshire Society referee had whistled up for the first of 15 penalties, this one against Winchester. Penalties and the lineout were to become prominent parts of the match’s pattern.

A Winchester player was caught offside, and Witney were first on the scoreboard with a penalty goal kicked by centre Dom Coe.

12 minutes in and Winchester showed one of their greatest attacking weapons, taking the ball at a 5-metre lineout and mauling infield and over the line for a touchdown for hooker Jimmy Wallis who, though only 5’ 7”, weighs just over 15 stone and is a tower of strength both in attack and defence. Scrum-half Tom Fieldsend’s conversion made it 7-3 to Winchester.

Winchester was penalised again, and Coe doubled Witney’s score. But those were to be the last time the visitors bothered the boys from Winchester’s Under-13s squad who were operating the scoreboard. 

Winchester’s fly-half Greg Sullivan’s tactical kicking from hand was an important factor in the match, and it led to Winchester’s next score. Sullivan’s kick to the corner was knocked on by a Witney defender, Winchester No 8 and captain Matt Golding picked up at the back of the resultant scrum and surged over for his third try of the season. Fieldsend’s conversion attempt sailed wide in the fickle wind.

He made amends with the last score of the first half, a penalty goal. But with a minute to go the referee showed Winchester second-row Jacob Culley-Wilson a yellow card, and the teams went into their huddles with Winchester in the lead by 15-6.

Sullivan started the second half with a high kick, picked up on the bounce by Fieldsend, who touched down in the corner. He added the extras, and Winchester were 22-6 up with only 14 men on the field.
Winchester’s half-time discussion must have touched on lineout options, because when they had the throw-in ten metres out from the Witney try-line they opted for a six-man line and spectators were treated to the rare sight of Golding and prop Alex Lee in the back line. 

Though Culley-Wilson was back from his ten minutes in the sin bin, Wickens saw yellow for a no-arms tackle and not long after that flanker Jack Coles joined him; Winchester were briefly down to 13 men, but nevertheless managed to increase their score by a penalty goal.

With the match drawing to an end and substitutes Ben Turner, Will Wilson and Jake Jupe all on, Winchester’s superior fitness showed, and as Witney players began to tire they added a league bonus point with a try for full-back Tommy Hare, converted by Fieldsend, and a final score of 32-6.

One of Winchester’s strengths this season has been their well-organised defence, and the fact that they survived three 10-minute suspensions without conceding a point is testimony to that. 

“This was the first game of the dark months of winter and on a wet pitch”, said coach Gaz Martin after the match. “I can’t praise our players’ energy and commitment too highly. Fitness training at the Army Training Regiment gym has been very good for us. I couldn’t pick out a man of the match – it would be units, not a single player. Today both our front row and our back three were outstanding.”

In the meantime, Winchester’s second team lost away 5-47 to United Services Portsmouth and the thirds beat Basingstoke at home 26-14.