An Alternative View of IWRFC by O’Pinion – Sun. 4 Dec. 2016

An Alternative View of IWRFC by O’Pinion – Sun. 4 Dec. 2016

You may have missed the Alternative View column in recent weeks, but O’Pinion has been busy, advising Joe Schmidt and his backroom staff during Ireland’s successful November international campaign. It’s always nice to see how the professionals do it, but it’s even better to return to where rugby really matters; the grassroots, and IWRFC.

As we’re just over one-third of the way through the season, it’s well overdue to sit back and evaluate how things are going. The first team had a free weekend and could put their feet up yesterday – hard earned after some seismic tussles recently. There was the try-fest over at league leaders New Milton, the thrilling floodlit battle at Sandown-Shanklin, and last week beating Ellingham & Ringwood by the odd point in…89?!? Unseasonably dry weather has meant very high-scoring games, though our exceptional attack and sometimes leaky defence have also contributed.

New players Owen and Henry have made a huge impression, and some strength in depth is emerging in certain positions. There hadn’t been too many injuries until last week, but hopefully the squad is strong enough to cope with any more. Off the pitch, we’re attracting plenty of spectators who are enjoying the on-pitch fayre and the hospitality afterwards. Good times, indeed.

So after all that, IWRFC sit 7th out of 11 in Hampshire One, one place above where we’ve finished in the last four seasons, and with Fareham Heathens in our sights three points ahead. They visit the Fortress in the last home game before Christmas, which might be an opportunity to move further up the table. Before then however, the Rangers travel to Ventnor next week.

What about the 2nds? Mixed results as always, but the overall signs are positive! At the time of writing, the 2s have just completed their ninth consecutive Saturday match – a far cry from previous seasons, where a whole month or more could pass without match action. All the more notable is that most of these matches have been away, the bizarre fixture list dictating that IW 2nds will have a string of home matches to finish the season (if the opposition turn up.) At a time when playing numbers appear to be on the slide in Hampshire, IWRFC’s ability to field week in week out is praiseworthy indeed. Highlight of the season so far? Probably the three victories in a row in November, two of which were away. The 2nds lie 6th out of 12 in Solent League 3, and should be looking above them rather than below, as few enough points separate them from the upper echelons.

Yesterday, the 2s made the short journey to local rivals Sandown/Shanklin for a league derby. A measure of the club’s good health is that there was no need to call on any of last week’s starting first 15, though Smudge did make a second half appearance. Meanwhile, Josh Wright turned out for the opposition who were short of a prop. On a bitterly cold windy day, the teams served up a good contest even if the play was a bit scrappy in places. The hosts dominated the first half in territorial terms and built up a 17-5 lead, though a smashing  George Huish try gave the Rangers some solace.

Oddly, IW were able to defend magnificently close to their own line, but sometimes were sadly lacking further up the field, the most glaring example being when one of Sandown’s stronger players strolled through directly from the second half kickoff, with barely a hand being laid on him. Some fabulous attacking play soon improved O’Pinion’s mood, Smudge (that’s Alex Smith, FYI, County Press sports editor) crashing over from a short-range penalty, before a terrific move ended with a Tom Turtle score. Credit to Sandown, who controlled the last 20 minutes and ensured the Rangers wouldn’t get a chance to level the scores, before scoring a try of their own on the final whistle. 27-15 it finished.

Players may leave the club, but the club never truly leaves them. And so yesterday, the legendary Simon Boulter made his first appearance for us in years, home for a few days on holiday, and achieving his pre-match target of giving away only a single-figure tally of penalties. Brother Ollie (our esteemed chairman) also made his presence felt. And Alex Augustus (young Gussie) was pulling the strings from fly-half! Nathan Tombleson made his return as a late replacement too. Reasons to be cheerful – one, two, three, and the rest. Onwards and upwards, IWRFC Rangers!

2nds v Sandown & Shanklin: T Turtle, Sabin, Toms, Huish, Webster, Augustus, Marriott, Brine, Pettifer, Keyes, J Bishop, O Boulter, Hay, Kearney, Greedy, S Boulter, A Smith, Hatch, Greaves, Tombleson, J Wright.