Alton Rugby Football Club

Alton's Hopes Pinned on Forward Power

Sat 05 Sep 2009, 15:00

Ellingham & Ringwood

10 - 6


Alton suffer a narrow defeat in their final warm-up match at Ellingham & Ringwood but all eyes will turn to Tilebarn Close this Saturday as the Hampshire One season finally gets under way.

The Red Bellies face a demanding opening-day trip to Farnborough and, premature as it may sound, the first fortnight of the season could go a long way to determining if Alton will be vying for promotion honours next April.

Farnborough's ranks were bolstered by a half-dozen Army Fijians and they finished third in last year's campaign, beating Alton home and away in the process. But their fortunes may well rest heavily on the availability of their service personnel, most of whom were sent away on operational duties at the end of last season.

The following week local rivals Petersfield take the short trip to Anstey Park in an intriguing derby battle to establish local bragging rights, as well as an early foothold in the upper reaches of the table.

Victory in both games could quickly establish some promotion credentials but it is likely to be a tough slog for Alton, whose inconsistency last season was as bewildering as it was frustrating for the Anstey faithful.

Alton are once again led by their amiable 23-year-old prop Jimmy Gay who, despite his tender years, is one of the older hands in a youthful pack that punches well above its weight. While the forwards are phsyically small by any standards, they are a formidable scrummaging unit and highly mobile, and will dominate many opponents this season.

The forward have been hugely impressive in the pre-season skirmishes and, injuries permitting, the forwards hold the key to Alton's fortunes.

Indeed, it was the forwards who stood out last week as pre-season preparations continued apace with matches at SEME Bordon and Ellingham and Ringwood.

Mother Nature did Her best to wreck last Wednesday's game at SEME, with howling gales and sheeting rain threatening to reduce the game to a near-farce. With conditions more befitting to late November than late summer, ball retention and handling were rendered nearly impossible and all prospects of a running game were obliterated.

But both sides conspired to serve up a decent game, with SEME edging Alton 14-10 thanks to tries from their giant Samoan number eight and a superb breakaway try eight minutes from the end.

Shane Watts scored a late consolation try for Alton which was converted by Kieran Collins, who had opened the scoring with a fifth-minute penalty.

While Alton struggled to create openings in the pouring rain, their forwards dominated the bigger, heavier SME pack in the second half and emerged the stronger of the two forward packs. Watts, utility forward Stephen Osborne and centre Richard Hemmens were stand-outs in the rain-sodden performance.

It was a similar story three days later, when Alton were again on the end of a narrow defeat, this time at Ellingham and Ringwood's newly-opened Parsonage Barn Lane ground.

The Es, who play a league above Alton in London 4, sport a formidable pack themselves and they edged out their junior opponents 10-6 in a bruising contest.

Three defeats in three warm-up games may not be the best way to enter a new season but Gay and his side can take great comfort that they have acquitted themselves admirably against senior opposition.

It was a different story for the 2nd XVs, though, with the New Forest side romping to a 48-0 win. Alton's 2nd XV also get their Merit 2 campaign under way when Farnborough visit Anstey Park.

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