Gallant Alton Out-Muscled By Vandals
Sat 17 Sep 2011, 15:00
18 - 24
Vandals fended off Alton's second-half fightback to win a scrappy affair at Anstey Park.
It has long been a rugby truism that if you control possession, you control the game.
Vandals managed both but they came perilously close to turning a comfortable win into inglorious defeat.
A compelling game in which the level of endeavour was not always matched by quality of execution - it was compelling because Alton managed to claw their way back after trailing 17-3 at 50 minutes and their comeback was only finally snuffed out by a late try from Vandals' centre Jake Sines, who completed a personal hat-trick in the process.
Sines' virtuoso efforts notwithstanding, Vandals' victory was forged in the tight five, where they enjoyed a huge weight advantage over their lightweight Alton counterparts, the visitors blasting a rejigged, weakened Alton at the scrummage and outmuscling them in the close-quarter encounters.
For the most part, Vandals kept it tight and played the percentages - and it worked, although they wasted a host of chances and nearly came unstuck in a thrilling final quarter.
Alton, as with the Wellingtonians game last week, were woefully short of bulk and power in the front five and although they counter-rucked aggressively and tackled themselves to a standstill, they were under the cosh for two-thirds of the match.
However, the second-half introductions of Elliott Ross and Garry McDonell gave Alton extra ballast and something of a set-piece platform. Unsurprisingly, they then started to play with more tempo and a little flair.
But, as Australia found to their cost against Ireland in Auckland, you can have all the pace and devil in the world in the back division but if you do not have a solid scrum, you will struggle to win rugby matches.
In all, the win was fully deserved for the Surrey club, who are rebuilding after relegation - and it was a happy return to Anstey Park for their affable head coach, Nick Ridley.
For Alton, Shane Watts - out of position at tight-head for injured skipper James Gay - was destructively effective and their most incisive ball-carrier while debutants Tom Smith and Mark Ridgewell also showed well - Ridgewell's defensive endeavours probably saved his side ten points.
Overall, it was the post-university return of stand-off Ed Hubbard that will give Alton most cheer. His kicking from hand and tee were splendid enough but his authority and control of the gain-line gave Alton much of their go, especially in the second half. If he stays fit and available he will be a hugely important addition to the squad this season.
Hubbard's 30-yard penalty was the only score of a bitty, whistle-strewn opening period. Vandals had bossed most of the ball and territory in that time yet managed to butcher three gilt-edged try-scoring opportunities and, mystifyingly, end the half scoreless.
However, the visitors' industry was eventually rewarded with three tries in ten minutes early in the second half.
First, Jake Sines took a craftily-delayed pop-pass from identical twin Oliver and scampered over from 30 metres.
Then it was turn of lock Lewis Bryant to plunge over after a series of punishing pick-and-drives close to the Alton line. Sines added his second - an opportunist effort which saw him hack and win a foot-race to the line after the ball at squirted out of the back of a retreating Alton scrum.
Mike O'Neill slotted a conversion for a 17-3 lead but Alton gained a foothold in the game when Adam Gill crossed, a fine individual effort that saw him take the ball from a standing start tight on the left touchline, before ghosting inside a couple of tacklers and out-pacing the cover.
Hubbard added the conversion and when he added a penalty shortly afterwards, the margin was down to just four points.
But Vandals nailed the game and the fourth-try bonus point when Sines scuttled down the blind-side after a series of probing drives from his forwards.
Even so, there was a twist. Replacement number eight MacDonell gave Alton hope a minute from the end, when he forced his way over from close range after Vandals fumbled a line-out on their own line. But it was too little, too late and Alton had to make do with a losing bonus point.
Alton: Ridgewell (Elderton); Spencer, Forsyth ©, Law, Gill; Happel, Parratt, Watts; Greenhalgh, Gerlach (Ross); Smith (MacDonell), Carter, Haden.
Tries: Gill (64), MacDonell (79);
Pens.: Hubbard (10, 72).
Vandals: O'Neill; Hawkins, J Sines, O Sines, M Edmondson; Grundelingh, D Loubser; Mason, J Loubser, Moore; L Bryant (Keaney), D Bryant; Wylie, Higkey.
Tries: J Sines (43, 53, 76) L Bryant (49);
Cons.: O'Neill (2).
Referee: Ian Pennell (Hampshire Society).