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London League beckons All Blacks
Andover 77 Overton 5.
Scenes of wild celebration greeted the final whistle at the Goodship Ground last Saturday as Andover’s young ‘All Blacks smashed their way to the Hampshire Division One title and automatic promotion to the London Leagues.
“Champions and promoted, those words are music to my ears” said relieved head coach Andy Waite as his Oakwood sponsored side put a plucky Overton to the sword with a display of power, pace and skill that had a big noisy crowd in raptures.
Andover were excellent, particularly in the early part and made sure there was to be no late twist in this enthralling title race, despite Fordingbridge doing their part with a bonus point win over Southampton.
Indeed Andover showed just why they are champions by running in 13 tries to make it 138 in just 22 games, winning the league by a huge points difference from Fordingbridge, who graciously congratulated Andover straight after the game.
“It’s been a great tussle at the top between two clubs who respect each other enormously and we wish them the best of luck in next week’s play-off and hope to see them up with us next year” added Waite who also paid tribute to those who work so hard in the club’s academy for their contribution to this success.
“Today we fielded no fewer than 14 out of an 18 man squad who have graduated from our academy in the past six years. That is a remarkable feat and is the reason we have achieved what we have.
It really is a whole club effort and a whole club success and that’s what makes it so special.’
Despite the nerves that had been jangling around the club all week Andover prepared well and played some ruthless rugby to expose the gap between themselves and relegated Overton, who certainly had not turned up to make it easy.
As often before this season though, teams have found that being committed and physical against Andover is never enough, as the pace and ability all over the side combined with a well drilled and efficient set piece, gives Andover so many ways to win.
That was the case in this one, as from the start Andover simply probed in different areas until they found they key to unlock the visitors.
As early as the fourth minute the brilliant footwork of Jack Stott and Jake Kane combined to give flanker Simon Preece a chance to grab the first score and Andover were on their way.
Minutes later came a breathtaking solo effort from man of the match Elliott Copestake who danced his way over from 70 metres to increase the lead.
Dave Catt finished neatly after good work from Tom Erskine and Andy Franklin and soon after he doubled his tally after Callum Staff’s wonderfully timed pass.
With the bonus point secure Andover visibly relaxed and Overton immediately woke them from their slumber with a well worked try of their own.
Suitably admonished Andover restored normal service and just before the break powerhouse Nic Reed willed himself over the line for a try converted by Copestake.
Playing up the slope in the second period and with Tom Waite winning almost every scrum and skipper Alex Morgan and Preece doing the same in the lineout Andover began to dismantle the visitors.
Paul Tuinasakea, who was named ‘Vice President’s Player of the Year’ pounced on a loose lineout to score the first of his brace.
James Dawson was next to go over after a Waite strike against the head then Staff finished his own sublime kick and chase to the loudest roar of the day.
Tuinasakea then grabbed his second from a short scrum before Catt completed his hat-trick after another great piece of play by Staff and Copestake.
As Overton finally wilted Andover showed no mercy and a brilliant solo effort from Stott, followed by a second pacey effort from Copestake, punished them further before Catt had the last word with his fourth try from his own kick and chase.
Andy Franklin added six further conversions to complete the scoring as referee Ian Britton signalled time for the party to begin.
As Andover trooped off to huge applause Waite had one last tribute to pay.
“I cannot praise the efforts of player coach Marc Wilding enough” he said.
“This team has grown and developed so much over this season and much of that is down to him.
‘Unfortunately Marc couldn’t be here to today due to work commitments and played his final first team game last week.
‘He has coached and mentored and put his body on the line for this all season and I know all the lads would like to thank him for all he has done.”