Alton Rugby Football Club

Barnes-Inspired 'Field End Alton's Unbeaten Run

Sat 02 Jan 2010, 14:00


18 - 12


Petersfield trim Alton's lead at the top of Hampshire One to two points after edging them in thrilling game at a packed Penns Place.

Do not write off Petersfield for the Hampshire One title just yet. They inflicted a first league defeat on league-leaders Alton and now trail their fierce local rivals by just two points after an endlessly fascinating game at a packed Penns Place. 

With nine games remaining, there is still an awful lot of rugby to be played and plenty of banana-skins for both teams to negotiate if they are to move back into the London leagues. But if those 720 minutes are anywhere near as good as these 80, supporters of both clubs should consider themselves spoilt.

It was a wonderful match.Twice as fast as the usual Hampshire One stodge; frenetic, error-strewn and occasionally a little fruity but, for all the visceral passion that arises from local rivalry, played in a good spirit. The skill levels weren't bad either.  

If the players and coaches gave it their all, so did the 200-strong crowd that manned the touchlines: there was banter, plenty of advice for referee Gary Self and even some nastier verbals, but this was rugby at its most raucous, rawest best.

Occasions like these merely confirm that the true spirit of rugby lies not in a corporate hospitality box at the soulless morgue that is Twickenham, but at grass-roots clubs like Petersfield and Alton. 

England trained for weeks and produced rubbish in the autumn internationals yet these two groups of amateurs produced an epic, despite having minimal preparation time due to the bad weather and the Christmas break. Go figure.

For 'Field, centre Andy Barnes was the man: he may not have been able to hit a barn door with his place-kicking but such is his rugby skill-set that not only did he score two tries and set up a third, but he was at the hub of everything, defence and attack. Wing George Saunders, lock Alex Dark and open-side Gareth Nicholls all warrant mentions in dispatches, but the 'Field forward eight rallied splendidly in the second half, just as it seemed Alton might overwhelm them.

For Alton, giant lock Will Ford, Chris Cox and Adam Baker were lions in a pretty decent forward pack, while centre Ed Good was the visitors' most creative force. But Baker's 48th-minute withdrawal hurt Alton particularly badly - with his departure went Alton's undeniable forward superiority.

'Field probably won because they wanted it more and for all the passion and raw emotion on show, they kept their heads - and the ball - better. Their backs had more of a cutting edge and more ball with which to use it.

By contrast Alton were off-colour and a little off the pace, and though they showed well when they had the ball in the forwards, they always struggled for possession, especially in the second half. The penalty count of 16-10 against, accumulated mostly at the breakdowns, also tells a story. 

But how 'Field had to work for victory, despite enjoying copious amounts of territory and possession, and all but monopolising both in the second period. 

Alton simply refused to buckle and right up to the final whistle there was half a suspicion that they would pull a rabbit out of a hat. They nearly did, too.

The visitors opened the scoring after seven minutes, Baker stretching over from a rolling maul and Hubbard converting for a 7-0 lead. 

However, 'Field were the livelier side. Barnes missed with a penalty shot but his side were on the scoreboard in the 16th minute when Saunders angled run from Flett's inside pass broke the Alton defensive line and took him into the 22, Barnes and Ben Martin then combined to allow full-back Nick Lewis to squeeze over in the corner.

Barnes himself added 'Field's second try ten minutes later, exploiting an overlap in the right-hand corner after a patient build-up and several punishing phases had sucked in most of Alton's defensive cover.

But back came Alton and they laid siege to the 'Field line for the final ten minutes of the half. Good, Winston Carter and Jimmy Gay all went close, but it was that man Baker who touched down after 'Field buckled at an Alton five-metre scrum.

With the Alton scrum threatening to over-run 'Field and 'Field's line-out malfunctioning, the league-leaders seemed to have a definite edge but the second half could not have turned out more differently,

It was one-way traffic - 'Field were all over Alton like a rash. Flett restored 'Field's lead with a 52-minute penalty but for all their pressure they could not quell an obdurate Alton, whose defence was excellent bordering on heroic.

Eventually, the decisive breakthrough came with six minutes left on the clock when a quick tap caught Alton short of numbers on their left flank and Dark's pass allowed Barnes to hold off the covering defence and squeeze over in the right-hand corner.

Alton, however, simply refused to buckle and back they came. A last throw of the dice saw them run the ball from under the posts and release flying wing Taryke van Rensburg 60 from the 'Field tryline. van Rensburg may well have made it but Flett came out of nowhere to ankle-tap him and so snuff out the attack. And that was that. 

The final whistle was greeted with as much relief as joy by the home support and players: 'Field had not only got one over their local rivals but they had resurrected their hopes of claiming the sole automatic promotion slot.

For Alton, it is a setback but they still hold the nap hand - six of their nine remaining league games are at Anstey Park, after all. The title is theirs to lose.

And as for the neutral, one can only hope these two sides meet again next year.

Petersfield: Lewis; Saunders, Barnes, Martin, Dunglinson; Flett, Butcher; Luff, Ball, Williams; Brookes (Todd, 63), Dark; Crane, Nicholls (Eldridge, 76), Palmer (c). 

Tries: Lewis (17), Barnes 26, 74);

Penalty: Flett (52).


Alton: Law; O'Connor, Hemmens, Good, van Rensburg; Hubbard, Pead; Osborne, Parratt, Gay (c); Ford, Greenhalgh; Cox, Carter, Baker (Flanagan, 48).

Tries: Baker (8, 36);

Conversion: Hubbard.

Referee: Gary Self (Hampshire Referees).

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