Champagne Rugby edges survival grit.
By Mark Weeks
Battle for survival produces try-fest. Report by Geoff Bond.
With Winchester staring down the relegation trapdoor, this was always going to be a bruising battle for survival. Farnham could afford the luxury of trying some Champagne rugby as they scrapped to finish either fourth or fifth in London SW2 and their highest ever league position.
Surely if Winchester had battled, scrapped, supported all season they would not be on their way down. On this day they wouldn’t lie down and played as if their lives depended on it right to the end of the game.
Warm weather greeted the teams for the first time this year. The pitch firm to soft and the match underway. Excellent exit by Farnham with a succession of picks and drives to the halfway line. Skipper Naisbitt to the fore backed by Steve Simmons, the eventual man of the match. Winchester stretched but the Hampshire referee spotted an infringement. Penalty to Winchester and all of the exit work undone.
The home side played at pace down the slight slope and gradually their momentum built. Inroads being made through their back row with flanker Golding on the charge. Quick ball and Forster plunges over wide out. 5-0. Scrum half Mahwood slipping as he attempted the extras.
Winchester warmed to the battle ahead and Mahwood scampered away to the corner after an outrageous dummy. Again the conversion fluffed. Farnham needed ball in hand to crack open the champagne and a superb team breakout through in-form James Corlett, on to Simmons then Daly sees the youthful 43-year-old Jemi Akin-Olugbade steaming up the wing to claim the spoils. 10-5.
In this topsy-turvy encounter Farnham now have the upper hand. Winchester penalised in front of their posts. Toby Salmon converts and the deficit down to two. 10-8. The pace was unrelenting. Another penalty to Farnham and Salmon drifted the ball into the home 22 – line out secured and Winger Joe Wigmore at pace under the posts. Easy for Salmon 10-15.
From the kick-off Naisbitt quite legitimately snaffles the Winchester fly half in a choke tackle to create a maul. Inexplicably the ref calls for him to be released. Words to the official and a yellow card for James Franklin. From the penalty Winchester kick to the corner and from the ensuing line out Golding charges down the clearance kick to pull the game level at 15-15.
A tremendous game for the neutrals in the crowd all enjoying the Spring sun and dare we say it – warmth. If anything the intensity increased – sparring between the two 22 metre lines. Daly and Jemi cracked the whip in defence. Jennings, Joris and Naisbitt all threatened to break out and tackled anything that moved in their areas. The onslaught continued.
Again the home scrum half Mahwood spotted a gap – blessed with pace to burn – on to Turner and a try under the posts followed by the Mahwood conversion. Half time approached and Farnham came back. Scrum on the five-metre line and Daly was unstoppable from that distance. Extras from Toby Salmon. 22-22 at the break.
The first fifteen minutes of the second half mirrored much of the first – both sides fought for supremacy in the middle of the pitch. First one attack then another, successive bouts of good defence from Farnham. Centres Michael Salmon and James Corlett let very few chances through and the back three of Ben Jones, Joe Wignore and Eliot Rich tackled way above their weight.
Winchester’s season was moving into the last thirty minutes as the ever-impressive Pete Daly wrestled his way through three tacklers to sprint in from the 22. Toby Salmon with the two. 22-29.
The Hampshire boys were not giving up the fight. After a nasty clash saw replacement Ed Weeks treated for a head cut, Farnham were disorganised and from the next play Winchester were again over in the corner through winger Ashton. 27-29 with twenty minutes remaining.
From the off, Farnham drove to the corner where the home winger was yellow carded for killing the ball. Not impressed, he let the referee know in no uncertain terms. The referee was equally unimpressed and changed the colour to red. Winchester, just when they needed all hands to the pumps, were reduced to 14 men.
From the line-out, Farnham’s replacement scrum-half Oli Whetton scampers over for a superb individual try. Again easy for Toby Salmon. 27-36 and the all-important two scores gap.
With the clock running down Winchester raised the stakes. It is unbelievable how their season has lurched to an end. The spirit and skill levels in the club are superb and their determination unrelenting. To prove it a mass break out saw the impressive Golding bursting through the ragged defence to free up his winger Garner – again, unfortunately for Winchester, wide out and no extras. The Farnham defence had driven them wide on five occasions denying them 10 vital points.
Farnham’s better form began to show as they launched one sweeping attack after another. Oli Brown back on for Whetton snapping around the breakdown. Another massive drive from Yeomans and Jennings pushed the home defence back and with Toby Salmon demanding quick ball the finish was clinical. Michael Salmon on to Corlett and wide to Toby Comley. The final nail as Toby Salmon slammed over the conversion. 32-43 the final score in a breath-taking encounter.
Sadness for Winchester. Surely if they had performed like this for most of the season they would have survived. They will be back.
This was a tremendous Farnham performance given their circumstances – league position to play for but no chance of promotion or relegation. The boys could have ‘been on their holidays’ but no – their competitive spirit saw them through. Some of the rugby was scintillating – mass break outs with mass support. Apart from the ageless Jemi and the mature Jules Joris this is still a young squad. With reinforcements expected next season, surely better than fourth or fifth will be the aim.
James Corlett, Ben Jones and the Salmon boys had great games in the backs but the President’s Podium went to the forwards Steve Simmons 3, Pete Daly 2 and Jemi Akin-Olugbade 1.