Saturday 16 September saw the first home game of the season for US Portsmouth meaning that the afternoon started off for some with the usual pre-home match lunch at the White Horse Southsea. This week we were joined by family and friends of the new Head Coach Richard Neil and it was good to welcome them to the day along with guests from Fareham Heathens.
The game itself was disrupted by the increased security threat level that resulted in HMS Temeraire being in lock down and we are grateful to Portsmouth Rugby Club for their allowing us to play on the second pitch at Rugby Camp.
The first half started frenetically with both sides vying for possession and whilst it seemed even in that sense it was all played in the Heathens' half. Heathens cracked first and gave away a penalty at 7 mins deep in their own half. It was kickable for Ben Smith but in a refreshing level of confidence the kick to touch was elected for; a clean line out led to a push over try was scored by Will Rolfe and converted by Ben Smith.
It was ten minutes into the game before the first scrum which was awarded to Heathens. US had a strong pack and the front row in particular set the tone for the rest of the game by winning against the head. Some quick movement of the ball saw it come out to the right wing where new signing Tom Jennings made some good ground only to be headed off by Heathens defence reacting quickly.
At 15 mins Rolfey took a blow to the face resulting in a blood replacement with Phil Gilliland coming onto the park. The scrum remained strong and at 20 mins some good movement of the ball out of a scrum resulted in a try for Sam Masters taking the score to 12:0. Heathens then applied some pressure with some strong individuals pressing the US defence however the next score came at 30 mins with a try to US scored by Tom Jennings taking it to 17:0. The final ten minutes of the half saw Rolfe come back on to the park for the injured Richard Neil but despite some strong play by both sides and a string of penalties the half time score was 17:0.
Despite now playing uphill the second half saw Heathens open their account with a converted try taking the score to 17:7. This was not going to be an easy half even following a try at 50 mins with another pushover try, this time by Bruce Neil, coming from a penalty lineout taken cleanly by Gareth Guyll (having come on for the injured Luke Davies) setting the forwards up well for the subsequent drive. Smith converted and the score was now 24:7.
The restart from Heathens was poor and a scrum was awarded to US in the centre (restart not going 10m). There was a level of anticipation on the touchline as a good run down the right wing was picked up on by Liam Geoghegan but was stopped short of the line. A penalty was awarded in the following play and given the strength of the US pack the decision was taken for a scrum; a try might have been a certainty was it not for a tremendous run out from one of the Heathens players who ran the length of the field only to knock-on short of the US line.
Heathens were not yet out of this but it took until the 75th minute for their next try to come too late taking the score to 24:14. With a regrouped US and a resumed attack Heathens were unable to respond and the final score finished at 24:14.
Thanks go to: the referee for a good consistent game, Portsmouth RFC for the pitch and to Dave Reed (White Horse) and Ted Waters (CPG Logistics) for their sponsorship.
By Paul Nelson
Updated 21:06 - 18 Sep 2017 by Richard Neil