Lymington Mariners took on Tottonians 3rd XV at Woodside Park Saturday. Despite a lively start, the home side soon found themselves pushed back into their own half by the visitors, who came close to creating an overlap in the left corner, an attack foiled by some solid tackling from the Mariners backs, in particular winger Mikey Jenner and Captain Freddie Lauder at no.11.
The first scrum saw the home side in retreat, but possession was retained, allowing an effective clearance from Harry Green at no.10. However, Tottonians continued to claim most possession and a lack of line speed from the Mariners gave them space to play.
The visitors also proved effective in turning the ball over, increasing the pressure on the Mariner defence and forcing Lymington full-back Gareth Evans to make a number of clearances.
Mariner’s primary attacking strength in the early phase of the game came in the marauding form of no. 8 Mitch Sullivan (later named Rivaaz Man of the Match) ably supported by Pete Rolfe, but the run of play was largely with the visitors, whose no.10 produced some particularly dangerous chips for the opposition to run on to. These were gathered and cleared well by Evans and with somewhat less elegance and more random degrees of accuracy by Nick Bubb and Danny Hodnett.
It took some time for Mariners to fight their way into the opposition half, with Hodnett’s quick penalties injecting a sense of urgency into the attack. More ball and some straighter running started to gain territory and eventually won Mariners a scrum five yards out from the opposition try line, only to concede a penalty, which Totts sent skyward. Rolfe was underneath it, but in marking out his intended line of attack, forgot to catch the ball. His expression said everything.
Mariners were gradually getting into their stride, but any fluidity in attack continued to be hampered by minor infringements and/or errors, while the Tottonian set pieces provided the visitors with attacking ball, leaving the majority of play in the home side’s half. A break by the Totts no. 8 saw him clear through the middle and into Lymington’s 22. It was only a last-ditch tackle by Mikey Jenner that saved the Mariners from conceding the first try.
Faced with such determined defence Totts took advantage of a penalty to take three points. The visitors had had the better of 30 minutes of play, but came away with little to show for it.
Mariners line speed was improving, egged on by the occasionally apoplectic Lauder whose accent goes distinctly Welsh when emotional. A pick-and-go from prop Stuart Harvey put in train a multi-phase play involving both forwards and backs that brought Mariners into the opposition 22 in front of the posts. Sullivan, Rolfe and Mike Austin all took the ball on in succession from the scrum only to see it hacked back by Totts and Mariners once again on the defensive and dependent on the skills of Evans, who suffered a late tackle for his efforts. The angle of Evans’ nose is often a weather vane for the Mariners' performance; luckily this time it remained straight, if gushing.
Lymington were slowly beginning to look more threatening, and a series of pick and goes from the forwards and some tackle breaking runs from Lauder, Alex Clegg -- on at full back to replace Evans -- and Hodnett started to open up Totts defence and pin the visitors back in their 22.
The Mariners then chose to bring on Craig Pilling for the injection of youthful dynamism the old warrior brings to any side. Within minutes of his appearance Totts had hacked through and were on the attack again. But minutes later a quick penalty from Bubb, and a pick-and-go from Hodnett, then Tim Hinman, saw the latter brought down within inches of the try line. The ball was whipped out to Sullivan and then Lauder, who from five yards out was never going to be stopped. The first half ended 5:3 in Mariners favour, a micro thin advantage, but they had finally stamped their authority on the game, no doubt a result of the Pilling factor.
Mariners returned to the second half with confidence and Hodnett executed a perfect drop-kick from the whistle. This was knocked-on by Totts and gathered by Harvey who took it to within a few feet of the try line. The forwards piled in and Hodnett took the ball off the back of the ruck to dive over. With the try converted, Mariners were 12:3 up and in control of the game.
However, the visitors continued to press and retained a significant proportion of possession, launching a number of attacks, both aerial and terrestrial. The Mariners back line stood firm, while some notable turnovers from Hodnett and Phil Jenner helped keep Totts at bay.
Both sides created attacking chances in the second half, despite some confusion after a Mariners’ clearance when it emerged that line judge Lee Thomas had drifted off to the corner post to take a call on his mobile. One of the best chances fell to Clegg, who came into the Mariners back line to create an overlap and found himself with a clear run to the try line only to be called back for a forward pass. Totts also created some chances, earning themselves a shot at goal, which they narrowly missed.
The game ended 12:3 in Mariners favour, the clean sheet on tries a testament to the solidity of the home side's defence, and the succession of fresh legs provided by the rolling subs policy, even if it left some confusion as to who was playing where and when. Sullivan, as noted, was named Man of the Match, no mean achievement for someone wearing a pair of boots so old they came apart at the front and by half time looked like a pair of ancient crocodile slippers.