Before the kick-off, players and spectators observed a one-minute silence in memory of young player, Alex Watley, who tragically passed away in his sleep over the holiday period. Alex, 23, played for Petersfield at the start of the season when he stepped in as fly half to help the club out in a match against Andover.
When the teams last met at Penns Place, Eastleigh proved too strong for Field and ended up worthy winners at 34-19. At that meeting Eastleigh dominated set plays and secured most of the possession, for the return fixture, Field were determined to improve their performance and disrupt Eastleigh's game. The Christmas break was a long one and Field's only preparation for the game had been one, poorly attended, training session. In spite of having players missing through injury or still away on holiday Field still put out a strong 15, Richie Herring took the captain’s armband as regular captain, Gareth Nichols, was sidelined by injury. As has become the norm this season Petersfield were required to make positional changes and blood some new players; Sam Wilkes coming in on the wing, Derek Eldridge
returning to first team rugby at outside centre and Alex Patience
making his debut from the bench.
The game was fast and furious from the start, with phase after phase of running rugby. Field’s defence was equal to Eastleigh’s attack with the back row combination of Richey Herring and Gerald Waterfall
smashing everything in an Eastleigh shirt. A close match looked to be on the cards until a series of scrummages and line outs. Immediately Eastleigh dominated in both of these areas, winning not only their own possession but the majority of Field’s too. With so much possession it was only a matter of time before Eastleigh scored. Sixteen minutes in and a great phase of supporting rugby eventually led to a 3 to 1 overlap and Eastleigh ran in unopposed. The second try came a few minutes later from a similar passage of play; Petersfield were definitely now on the back foot. The first half continued in this vein but there were some glimpses of hope with great breaks from Matt Bragg
(50 metres from his own 22) and finishing of a great move, Jay Bremner
breaking through the Eastleigh defence and over the try line only to have the touch judge raise his flag for foot in touch. That was the last move of the first half and left the score at 19-0.
The second half started much like the first with Eastleigh dominating the set piece and keeping the majority of the possession. Fifteen minutes into the second half Field were forced to make a change due to injuries, Tom Ashworth leaving the pitch to be replaced by debutant Alex Patience
. With Eastleigh on the front foot this wasn’t the best game to make a debut appearance, but Patience was not phased and played well. With Field forced to defend continuously for large periods of play it was only a matter of time before more tries followed.
Petersfield kept their heads up and put on a brave performance with every player putting his body on the line and their were some fleeting moments of brilliance from the backs who broke through the Eastleigh defensive line on several occasions. A 50 metre break from Tom Belcher
and Bragg being held up over the Eastleigh try line were a couple of the near misses Petersfield had to scoring a try. In the end Eastleigh were just too strong and thoroughly deserved their win.
First team coach, Scott: Heffield, was pleased with the manner in which the team had dug deep to make a game, but accepted that Eastleigh were just too good. “It’s not an ideal start to the new year for us as it signals the end of a three match winning streak,” he said. “However, we will take confidence from our defensive play and although the forwards were beaten up a little today, when the backs did get possession, they always looked threatening. It’s always difficult at this time of year to keep motivated and keep your foot on the pedal but I will be attempting to do just that for the lads with a series of physically challenging training sessions over the next few weeks. I'm still confident that we will improve on our performance for the first part of the season.”
The next few weeks for seventh-placed Field and those just above and below them in the table could be critical in terms of kicking on in the league. On the 14th January, Field travel to Nomads, who they beat earlier in the season, and host the Isle of Wight on the 21st. At the same time as Field meet Nomads, eighth-placed Farnborough sail across to sixth-placed Isle of Wight. Farnborough will have hopes of paying their hosts back for the narrow win that IoW inflicted on them in October. Field will be hoping for this too as wins against Nomads and then IoW should see them move up a slot.