ANDOVER performed their own “Great Escape” on Saturday as they defied the odds and avoided relegation from the London South West Division Two with a stunning 34-24 away win over Old Reigatian.
The All Blacks went into the crucial final day game in the midst of a three-way relegation battle with Portsmouth and Surrey side Effingham and Leatherhead.
But they ensured their survival, and Portsmouth’s demise, on Saturday thanks to a brilliant team performance – spearheaded by four-try hero Charlie Waite.
He was aided by man-of-the-match Tom Waite and Niko Rowe, while Nic Reed, having his best game of the season at tight head, caused continual problems for Reigatian.
The game began well for Andover when, after just five minutes, a catch and drive lineout saw the excellent Kieran Jenvey flash the ball to Rowe.
He loaded off to Charlie Waite, who finished in the corner for his first try.
The home side responded immediately and, when Reed was carded for a high tackle, they took full advantage.
Two quick tries put the hosts in the lead, however Andover refused to panic.
After a series of scrum penalties, which resulted in a yellow card for Reigatian, Ollie Lindridge neatly finished a pushover try.
This was converted by Rich Retallick.
Reigatian extended their narrow lead with a penalty, but Andover drew level before the break.
A superb wide pass from Tom Waite gave brother Charlie plenty of space on the 10-metre line.
With plenty still to do, he fizzed past the cover to finish in the corner and level the game at the break.
Pollard and Kane replaced Ciccotti and Ioan Gwynne Davies at half-time, but Andover quickly went behind again.
Despite this, Pollard soon showed what Andover were missing during his long-term injury, as his extra physical presence gave teenage flanker Fin Waite the license to roam.
Suddenly, Andover were on top.
The engine room of Tom Erskine and Luke Linssner, along with skipper Alex Hibidge were carrying strongly.
From a good field position Reigatian began to panic and Williams took full advantage.
A poor defensive kick found Kane whose chip and chase and outrageous offload was converted by Williams.
were level and had the bonus point sealed.
However, that was not enough.
The All Blacks had to win to be sure of safety and they went for it.
With Tom Waite seemingly everywhere and Jonny Rogers pulling the strings, Rowe and Williams ran riot.
Reigatian defended manfully, but when this trio combined to put Charlie Waite in for his hattrick, Andover finally took the lead with 10 minutes left on the clock.
It was too close for comfort and Andover had to score again to be safe from any late disaster.
Then came a moment of individual brilliance that sealed matters.
Fielding a defensive kick on half way, Waite sprinted at the wall of cover, chipped ahead, grabbed the high bouncing ball from the air and finished wonderfully to send his team and the large travelling support into raptures.
Moments from the restart Lindridge won the ball, Jenvey booted to touch and Andover had avoided relegation.
Meanwhile, Portsmouth, who took a 90-24 battering at the hands of Camberley, were the team to drop.
A delighted director of rugby, Andy Waite, said: “I take my hat off to Charlie.
“If anyone deserved to play such a big part today it was him.
He is our only player to have played every minute of every game this season.
“It’s this and the attitude of his fellow stalwarts, who eked out bonus points in these tough dark days when we looked dead and buried, that have played a huge part in keeping us up.
“Portsmouth have gone down with seven points more than we got last season, so that will tell you how tough and what a monumental achievement this has been, for a group of amateur local boys.”