Fordingbridge’s determination off the pitch matched their efforts on it as they claimed top spot in Snows Group Hampshire 1 in a mudbath battle – in Southampton!
It looked as if the eagerly anticipated clash was going to be postponed for the second time as rain continued to lash down on Bridge’s Recreation Ground throughout the week.
The match was moved to nearby Burgate School when Bridge’s pitch was deemed unplayable, but even those plans had to be abandoned because of the surface water.
Rather than hand home advantage to opponents Andover, Bridge staff phoned around and discovered Southampton’s pitch was vacant and playable – ironically, Saints’ game at Bognor was abandoned.
So, a muddy stage was set for a match that could decide who gets automatic promotion to the London Leagues at the end of the season – with Bridge running out 30-16 winners.
There was a clear sign of things to come after only seven minutes when a long, raking penalty kick by Mat Norton found touch near the Andover goalline and young flanker Paddy Gogin charged over from the resulting lineout for a try which Norton converted from wide out. Briefly Andover came into the game when they were gifted two penalties, and this was the signal for both sides to go at each other “hammer and tongs” before Fordingbridge top try scorer Dan Brown settled any nerves as he raced away for a try in the left-hand corner. Again, Norton converted.
With a strong wind at their backs, Fordingbridge started to dominate up front and, with half-backs Chris Gogin and Steve Brown counter-attacking at every opportunity, full back Mark Hammond popped up to complete another sweeping three-quarter move by scoring a third try.
Fordingbridge led 19-6 at half-time.
On the restart Bridge faltered and Andover pounced, Nico Rowe speeding over for a try which Rich Rettalick converted. Rettalick had already kicked the two earlier penalties and so Bridge’s lead was cut to 19-13.
It was obvious now that a score either way could decide the match, and it was the Fordingbridge pack that rose to the occasion – winning a scrum close to the Andover goalline and Rob Hay, back at number eight, touching down for the bonus-point try.
Rettalick kicked a third penalty to make it 24-16 with 20 minutes to go. However, Norton put the issue beyond any further doubt with two more penalties.
Fordingbridge captain James Greenwood, an inspiration throughout, paid tribute to a great effort all round.
He said: “I am so proud of the team, and had we played on our home ground we would have won by an even bigger margin. “We must now go on to challenge for at least a place in the play-offs”.