Rock bottom Farnham stun Winchester
This was the sort of helter-shelter, topsy-turvy encounter that makes many of us fall in love with sport in the first place.
What was supposed to be a stroll for third placed Winchester ended in a 25-24 win for the visitors.
The last ten minutes could not have been more frenetic as first Farnham with a break out from their own 22 scored a wonderful try after Man of the Match Chas Penn had interlinked with Jemi Akin Olugbade and Tom O'Connor. Penn taking the final pop up to score under the posts after a seventy five metre surge. The extras from fly half Andy Freshwater extended Farnham's lead to 25-16.
Winchester immediately retaliated deep into the Farnham 22 - silly penalty 25-19. The difference back down to one score. Another full blooded Winchester attack, they are not third in the league accidentally. Immediate Memories of Italy v Scotland last week another penalty after desperate Farnham rearguard defence and Scrum half Alex Cheshire opts for the corner. A line-out catch and drive and the home side drive for the line. The Farnham defence creaks and groans, drive pulled down illegally and the referee awards a penalty try. 25-24. Up steps Cheshire and from ten yards out directly in front of the posts inexplicably puts the potentially match winning kick wide of the posts. After a seemingly timeless last three minutes the referee finally brought proceedings to a close with all thirty exhausted players virtually out for the count.
It all started very differently at a sun drenched Winchester ground - spring like conditions promised an open and exciting game we were not to be disappointed.
Winchester showed their intention from the onset determined to keep Farnham on the move with wave after wave of driving support play. The home back row of Lee, Woods and Tomlinson making inroads into the Farnham 22 as the three quarters extended the attack, some laborious sideways running slowed the move and Chas Penn spotted the intercept to gallop 90 metres to open the scoring for Farnham 0-5 after just two minutes. Having enjoyed a good start Farnham compromised it almost immediately conceding a penalty on the 22 - from the follow up line-out home hooker Searle burst over in the corner 5-5.
The Farnham faithful began to fear the worst - this was supposedly a weak Farnham XV with nine regulars either injured or unavailable. Drafted into their places Marshall at hooker, Williams at prop with Meagher on the flank. In the back division Club Captain Dave Hurley, normally a full back, filled in at scrum half, second teamers Andy Freshwater, Tom Martin and Adam Hailstones completed the backs with Chas Penn,O'Connor and Akin-Olugbade. What followed was a testament to the spirit of the club and the determination of the replacements. Skippered by workhorse and club heartbeat James Trodden repeated Winchester attacks were repelled by the Farnham tackling wall. With second rowers Angus Harrison and Steve Simmons putting in massive shifts and the tireless Reece de Gruchy at 8 the game continued at a gruelling pace. The line-out drive continues to haunt Farnham and after 15 minutes with possession secured Winchester drove for the line 10-5.
This feature of the game is virtually unstoppable and back came Farnham to turn the tables with their own line-out variant. Harrison off the top, secured ball and a driving maul, stopped but driven on again by Simmons for Williams to crash over. 10-10.
Style and substance often make for a winning team - at the moment Farnham are happy to mix Grunt and Grind with flare. This 'makeshift' XV were certainly doing that as the intensity of the tackles and contacts became stronger and stronger.
On 35 minutes another home penalty, the predatory Farnham defence straying offside. 13-10. Again, almost immediately, a similar lapse from Winchester to even the scores.
With half-time beckoning Farnham launch a series of attacks out wide on the left before switching play across the field to speedster Tom O'Connor to jink and step inside to burrow over for a try. 13-18.
With the Winchester full back yellow carded for deliberately slowing down play the home team launched the final move of the half. Into the 22 and Meagher penalised, somewhat harshly, yellow card and 16-18 at half time.
What followed in the second period often beggared belief with both sides attacking and being battered back. Penalties awarded to either side - missed or electing to kick deep to attack. On 55 minutes the Winchester hooker yellow carded and during his enforced rest Farnham sense a chance, two successive penalties take them to the five metre line and only desperate home defence stops the try.
Respite but not for long with the clock running down to the final, match defining ten minutes.
Whilst this was not a game for the purist, too many ill chosen decisions, backs not running straight, it will go down as one of Farnham's best ever wins. The circumstances, league positions, selection requirements suggested a romp for the home side. However, this was never the case as Farnham, inspired by skipper Trodden and shepherded by old heads Hurley and Akin-Olugbade battered the opposition back time after time.
Should Winchester have won - definitely! Did Farnham deserve to win - undoubtedly!
With Portsmouth also winning the scene is set for a relegation scrap over the next few weeks.
Chas Penn two great tries 3 points
Andrew Naisbitt led the scrum from the front 2 points
Andrew Freshwater 1 led the line well and tackled his heart out.