At the local derby between Romsey and Southampton there was added spice with Coach Sheridan Easton having swapped sides now in Red and White. This gave the match an added edge - which was arguable a factor that unhinged Southampton's mentality and preparation. Selection decisions had been taken emotionally, although sometimes forced by availability, which meant a new look back row and back line (which included a forward slotting in and a key player playing injured). These are not excuses but simply lessons learnt for the future that sometimes the greater picture, and long season, should be considered - and that more commitment is needed from certain players.
One positive before the game was Club Captain and no. 8 Andy Campbell making his 50th First XV appearance for the club - he'd had wished for a better way to celebrate this milestone.
The match itself did not live up to the pre-match hype, from Southampton's point of view, with Romsey scoring 2 soft, unconverted, tries in the first 5 minutes to take a 10-0 lead. Southampton were bickering and playing as individuals. Dropped kick offs, unnecessary penalties and non-existent tackling meant Southampton had no complaints. However, the first Southampton line-out of the day signalled hope as Southampton managed to drive Romsey back in the maul as if they weren't there. This would set the tone for the day - Romsey winning the loose, Southampton dominating the tight.
A couple of missed penalties from fly half Tom Morton meant opportunities were missed but luckily the Southampton forwards had it covered with rolling maul after rolling maul - with the backs even joining in too. Some rolling mauls ran 20-30m before being illegally pulled down. Romsey were already on a warning from the ref. A kick to touch 5m out meant the 5 points were all but guaranteed - duly converted by the forwards and touched down by flanked James Cannauex.
The dominance of the forwards was not matched by defence of the entire team though and more errors allowed Romsey to score through the middle under the posts and score a drop goal (the second attempted of the day, both times when an easy overlap was available). 20-5. The forwards were in auto-pilot now though and more rolling mauls meant another James Cannauex try and conversion from Tom Morton - 20-12 half time.
The message was simple, play to the game plan and the match can be won, however this was not followed and after more forwards dominance and marching down the pitch, the Southampton backs decided to go wide and attempt a grubber kick - which was called many seconds before. 3 Romsey backs managed to block it, gather it and run through to score under the posts. 27-12. There was still time on the clock as the set piece battle was men vs boys (more accurately men vs old men). Romsey's constant illegal pulling down of mauls led to their first yellow card of the day, but their defence actually held up. A third push over try, again with James C at the back, did come in the corner but the conversion was once again missed.
Southampton's backs finally started clicking with less kicking to Romsey's dangerous back three instead with running starting to make ground. However, just as Southampton gained an overlap, albeit in their own half, the Romsey fly half knocked on the attempted intercept earning himself 10 minutes in the bin - very cynical given the space Southampton had. Marching up to the line a penalty in front of the posts led to a mass mothers meeting of both teams only for the smart witted Morton to tap and pass to the unmarked winger Kenny Baughan to squirm over the line. Lots of shouting from the Romsey supporters meant the conversion was moved out wider - with the original try scoring place disputed and this led to another miss. 27-22.
Southampton very much were feeling the comeback with Romsey even allowing them to grubber kick their penalty kicks to touch to avoid losing more balls over the locked fence and then not even bothering to lift a jumper in the line out. Romsey gained their third yellow card of the day for another illegal stop. However, Southampton's forwards' dominance was arguably their downfall as a Romsey scrum was wheeled and pushed back with a penalty assured until the ball popped out at the very last moment with Romsey's dangerous backs running at pace at the fragile and inexperienced Southampton back line. There would only be one winner and Romsey scored in the corner to rapturous celebrations from the crowd. A missed conversions used up precious time.
The end of the game followed the same pattern with Southampton down in Romsey's 5m with a penalty. However, miscommunication led to Southampton believing 6 minutes were left in the game - turns out this was probably referring to the sin bin. Therefore a kick at goal would probably have been best to gain a losing bonus point but instead a line out was chosen. Another, most likely, illegal pulling down of the maul followed and Romsey celebrated having won the game and usurping Southampton at the top of the table.
The loss hurt bad, real bad as the forwards battle wasn't even fun to watch as Romsey weren't trying to match Southampton in this area. The issue was the silly, at times stupid, mistakes that gave Romsey 17 points, which could have been more with conversions, that just wasn't needed. The Southampton back line, both those playing and those who did not, need to take this defeat personally as this sort of week needs to never happen again if promotion is to be achieved.
A big week of training is needed ahead of an improved Aldershot & Fleet side visiting Test Park on Saturday 28th October.