US Portsmouth 11 Andover 22 In a bruising and at times brutal encounter, Andover overcame the challenge of both an artificial pitch and fast physical opponents to cement their place as leaders of Snows Hampshire Division One at Burnaby Road last Saturday.
In a must win game for both sides the tension was palpable throughout and eventually it got too much for US when their player-coach Simon Burns was red carded for a horrific stamp on the head of Andover skipper Alex Morgan.
Morgan required several stiches to a face wound after the game and Burns is sure to face a lengthy ban for an action that put paid to his side’s brave comeback challenge in this game.
Despite their first team pitch being in perfect condition US chose to play on the Navy’s 4G surface which they have not lost on before.
The advantage they hoped for however did not materialise, as the pace and power of the Oakwood sponsored Andover side was actually helped by the true surface, even if its abrasive nature caused a number of painful injuries.
US tried to blast Andover away in the early stages and after just two minutes they were rewarded with a penalty after Andover transgressed at a ruck.
Far from daunted Andover showed why they are such a good side as they immediately roared back and superb work on the floor from Tom Erskine saw Andy Franklin and Paul Tuinsakea combine, to set Sam Froggett away for a trademark try.
From the kick off however US missed a simple penalty and soon left to rue it as the enigmatic Jack Stott seized on a loose pass to dance through and score a wonderful try.
Andover then suffered a blow when hooker Tom Waite caught his foot in the surface and was forced off and a reshuffle saw second team prop Craig Allen show just why he is such a promising player.
Andover continued to dominate the scrums and after a series of forward drives Franklin again fed Tuinasakea who smashed over to give Andover a 15-3 lead at the break.
Predictably US reduced the arrears with a neat try in the corner but Andover, orchestrated by the tactically astute Callum Staff at stand off, did not panic and defended magnificently for a 15 minute spell which saw US with lots of possession but little penetration.
The frustration was growing and as Andover remained stubborn, both sides received a yellow card after a fracas which was a sign of things to come.
The game went to uncontested scrums for the ten minutes which favoured US but they could still not break through and although they narrowed the gap with a penalty Andover looked like they had weathered the storm.
Then came the moment of madness from Burns which finally dashed their hopes and Andover took full advantage.
An excellent lineout take from Marc Wilding saw the ball flash to Staff and his deft pass to James Dawson gave the centre a chance he would not miss.
Rich Retallick added the conversion and that was that.
Afterwards coach Andy Waite said: ‘We were superb today especially in defence. Sometimes you have to man up to win tight games and we did just that against very good and determined opponents.’ ‘I am so proud of the players and I want to single out Craig Allen and Matt Moore in particular who both stepped up to the plate when it really mattered and did a fantastic job for the club.”
Full round up from Andover RFC in Friday's Advertiser