IW 43 Fordingbridge 26
Belatedly playing their first game of 2016, Isle of Wight delivered a consummate performance and fashioned a terrific seven-try victory over visiting Fordingbridge. The mainlanders more than played their part in a match which provided almost ceaseless entertainment for a good-sized attendance. The home supporters were particularly enthused considering the heavy defeat sustained by IW in the return match in September.
The game kicked off in cold but otherwise ideal conditions, and IW soon found themselves having to defend for their lives, but soaked up the pressure and were able to clear their lines. The superb Brett Evans then broke from midfield and, though he was hauled down short of the line, quick hands by Harry Dye and Ryan Cunningham allowed Mike Wood to score in the corner. Before Fordingbridge could reply, a second try was registered, Evans this time proving too elusive for the covering defenders. Harry Dye converted and IW led 12-0 in as many minutes.
IW seemed set fair to push on and extend their advantage, as they had a superior scrum and were looking dangerous in possession, particularly through the punishing carries of Alex Smith and Ollie Boulter. However, the Fordingbridge back division has a deserved reputation and they also caused their IW counterparts no end of headaches with pace and assured handling. Before the 20 minute mark was reached, they had wrested the lead away with two converted tries.
At this stage, attacks were on top and defences were having a tough time, but IW shored up their efforts from here on. They showed a facility to turn over ‘Bridge ball at the tackle area, which piled the pressure on and allowed Dan Stirrup to run at the heart of the visiting defence, handing off would-be tacklers for a memorable score. As half-time approached, IW remained on the attack, battering at the goal line until Martin Newnham unselfishly parted for Wood to make sure of the try in the corner. Incredibly, IW had ensured a four-try bonus point by the break, leading 24-14.
Though IW were clearly on their game, the threat of Fordingbridge meant that this encounter was still very much up for grabs. Neither side could get the upper hand at first, but the IW forward pack were remorseless and were soon celebrating a trademark breakaway try from the quicksilver Evans, his second. Dye converted, but Fordingbridge were now forced to throw caution to the wind. This saw them stretch the IW rearguard and score another fine try, closing the gap back to ten points.
Both teams continued to play positive rugby throughout. IW’s style was more direct but they regularly varied the point of attack, whereas Fordingbridge aimed to get the ball wide as often as possible, a tactic that served them well at times but also yielded turnovers. IW were next to score, as the outstanding Rouse Ltd man of the match Mike Wood broke two tackles and completed his hat-trick. ‘Bridge were straight back on the attack, and got their own bonus point, but fittingly the winners had the final say. It was also fitting that captain Stirrup, who had a fine outing, rounded off the match in style with his second score. Dye converted two of the second-half tries for a tally of four successful kicks.
Both clubs have an excellent relationship and the game was played in a thoroughly sporting manner throughout. Indeed, it was one of the most entertaining contests seen at Wootton Rec in recent seasons. The five points earned moves IW further away from the Hampshire One relegation zone, and hopes will be high that with more performances like this, the club can secure its status sooner rather than later in this league, for the seventh season in a row.
IW: Stirrup ©, Rann, Wood, Vann, Cunningham, Dye, Evans, Newnham, Tennant, M Tanner, A Smith, Boulter, A Brown, Hay, Lynch. Replacements: Huish, Williams, Keyes.