After some recent encouraging performances against sides in the top half of the Hampshire 1 Counties Division, Alton Silverbacks continued that impressive form when they won 27-19 away at Basingstoke in an important fixture at the foot of the table.
Basingstoke had not won since they beat Alton at Anstey Park in mid-October, but since then Alton have now won four times and they looked in the mood for revenge right from the first whistle.
After a wet week and a miserable Saturday morning, the rain abated before kick-off, but the pitch was heavy, and it seemed likely that the side who could manage the conditions better would prevail.
So, it proved to be. An early knock on from Basingstoke was capitalised on by George Pantrey. He spun the ball wide through the backs to Harry Devonshire, who made good ground down the left wing. The home side were penalised at the breakdown, but playing with the advantage, Pantrey kicked cleverly over the high line defence and Ed Thomas collected well to score after only two minutes.
Lewis New converted to give Alton a 7-0 lead.
Alton’s backs started with invention with Joe Gwyther releasing Oli Fielder, who ran some clever well-rehearsed running lines. In contrast Basingstoke lacked creativity and Alton’s defence had little trouble resisting some early forays into their territory.
After 12 minutes, Gwyther spotted space out wide and his intelligent kick was well executed and this time it was Dan Androuliakos who gathered well and touched down gleefully on the right wing.
In loose play Alton were fastest all over the pitch and won a couple of penalties as the home side struggled with the pace of the game. Led by captain Karter Whittock and bolstered by Al George and the ever-dependable Ben Burrage, the loose forwards of Alton were proving increasingly effective. But even without the notable absences of Parratt, Smethurst and Gardner, Alton now possess strength in depth in the front five as well and dominated the set piece scrum and maul.
Alton’s lineout was imperious with Harry Thomas throwing well to Whittock and Burrage all afternoon, and from a lineout just inside the Basingstoke 22, the rolling maul gathered pace and Thomas crashed over the line after 25 minutes. Alton now led 17-0 and the hosts looked slightly shell-shocked.
However, to their credit, Basingstoke regathered their composure and after a couple of penalties close to the Alton line, they opened their account to the delight of the vocal home support.
It was Alton, though, that capped off a fine first-half display with their first bonus point try of the season.
Off the back of a solid scrum, Pantrey stole down the blind side and his grubber kick was kicked on by Androuliakos and the ball bounced invitingly for him to score in the right corner. The visitors led 22-5 at half time.
Basingstoke had one weapon, though, that Alton struggled to contend with in the opening moments of the second half as they mounted an aggressive pick and go onslaught, and after 43 minutes the home side closed the deficit to 22-12.
Gwyther intercepted well to relieve the pressure but was hauled down just short of the line, with Alton eventually being penalised for holding on in the tackle.
On at least three occasions in the second half, Basingstoke failed to find touch from penalties and New returned with interest as they continued to hold the majority of territory.
Eventually Alton were rewarded with an important score as Pantrey again kicked deep to the corner. The impressive Harry Thomas somehow gathered himself to stop the ball going into touch, pirouetted to evade the defence and had the power to crash through two tackles to extend the lead to 27-12.
That score seemed to suck much of the life out of the home side, but they rallied briefly after charging down a Gwyther kick to close the gap to just 27-19 with eight minutes remaining.
With another try Basingstoke could have potentially earned two bonus points, but Alton managed the game out well as the home side were increasingly being penalised, eventually being warned by the official for repeated infringements close to their own line.
There were many positives to be taken from the game, not least the inspirational captaincy of Whittock, the clever kicking game from Pantrey and Gwyther and the tries from Androuliakos and Harry Thomas, but the whole squad should be congratulated for a thoroughly-deserved victory.
Alton will welcome another local rival, Petersfield, to Anstey Park today (Saturday).