The battle to dominate Snows Group Hampshire 1 looks as if it will be as keen as ever in 2014.
Leaders Andover continue to set the pace after a home victory over Millbrook, who still have their eyes set on promotion. Second-placed Team Solent had to earn their victory at rock-bottom Overton and chasing Fordingbridge walloped Farnborough away.
Andover showed exactly why they are now two points clear at the top with a gritty display against a tough and committed Millbrook outfit.
Millbrook had beaten Andover on their last two outings and at times the home side had to work hard to match the power of Brook’s huge pack.
However, Andover always looked dangerous with the ball in hand and even the Millbrook coaching staff were generous in their praise following the 38-19 win.
Andover ran in six tries: a brace from Elliot Copestake, an outstanding effort from prolific centre Jack Stott and scores from Simon Preece, Rich Retallick and Sam Froggett.
Retallick kicked the remaining points for the ‘All Blacks’.
Millbrook kept in touch with four penalties from the boot of Rich Colmer, who also converted a neat try by Mark Colmer when Andover had just 13 men on the park.
Team Solent made a slow start at Overton and had to overcome a half-time deficit to win 20-15.
Losing their number 8 in the warm-up, and skipper George Knight to a neck injury 15 minutes in to the game, did not help the students.
But three tries in the second half, from winger Will West, scrum half Ash Saunter and full back Ryan Keary, and a penalty and conversion from Rob Walters, turned the match in Solent’s favour. Fordingbridge whipped Farnborough 53-17 despite losing influential playmaker Steve Brown after just ten minutes.
The fly-half left the field dazed and was replaced by centre Dee Stone, who had one of his best games of the season.
Mat Norton, restored to the centre after a spell as flanker, responded with 23 points in all – a try, six conversions and two penalties – and Brown’s brother, Dee, helped himself to a hat-trick of tries.
Up front Fordingbridge met fire with fire, especially when they were in danger of conceding on their own line, to break away to score a breathtaking try.
Inspiring hooker and captain James Greenwood led the charge, Jamie Walters, Ed Douglas and Dan Brown kept the attack going and Alex Tattersall, playing at number 8, was on hand to charge over the line.
Bridge established control after Norton had put them ten points up with an early penalty and a conversion of his own try in the first 20 minutes. Steve Hastings hit back with a try for Farnborough, but a great break by Stone and Butler led to Dan Brown scoring the first of his three tries.
And with Brown and full-back Mark Hammond launching an attack inside their own 22, Stone sped away for another try for Fordingbridge to lead 24-5 at half time.
On the restart Norton put them further ahead with his second penalty, Tattersall scored the breakaway and decisive bonus-point try, Dan Brown crossed the tryline twice more and in between Butler also went over.