After the disappointment of last week's defeat to rivals Romsey, Southampton focused on selecting a stronger backline which proved critical especially later in the match. Aldershot arrived at Test Park with a 2 from 3 record - a tight defeat to unbeaten Locksheath their only blemish. They also had a new coach this year who had recruited some very big and powerful looking backs.
The game started fairly even but Southampton broke the deadlock when, which would be key later in the game, Chilean no. 8 Vincent Gonzalez spotted a gaping hole in the blind side of Aldershot's defence around the ruck allowed him to sneak through and then sidestep two more players to score under the posts. 7-0 with Tom Morton's conversion.
However, this was when Southampton's nemesis struck - their own inability to deal with kick offs. Miscommunication between winger Kenny Baughan and flanker James Martin meant the kick bounced into touch at SRFC's 5m line. Southampton failed to clear far and Aldershot had the ball. What followed was 5-10 mins of Aldershot attack which mainly consisted of crash balls from a handful of bigger players who needed double tackling. The combination of this, and poor discipline, meant Aldershot could attack again and again with Southampton failing to push them back. Eventually one of their big runners got the ball wide and close enough to the line to bundle over two SRFC tacklers, conversion missed.
Déjà vu is the only word to describe the rest of the first half as Southampton gained territory and worked through some excellent hard fought phases by the forwards to drag defenders in tight one side before attacking the other and Fullback Ben scoring in the corner. But then another poor, knocked on this time, kick off reception meant Aldershot had the ball and the relentless attacks again eventually stretched SRFC. 12-10 to the home side. What was clear though is that Aldershot had to work extremely hard for their tries, which showed with the injuries they started to receive, whereas SRFC scored a lot quicker - whoever had the ball dictated the match. Half time.
The highlight of the day, and would have been a try of the season contender, was when Aldershot attempted a Beauden Barrett (or George Ford-Jonny May for the Leicester fans out there) style cross field kick pass. However it was a speedy winger on the sideline but a prop! Amazingly he caught it in full stride but Southampton scrambled to stop him. They did also try it to the other prop in the 2nd half but it did not come off.
The 2nd half started with a complete disaster. A 3rd missed kick off reception led to Aldershot's most efficient try of the match and a real anger in the SRFC huddle, 12-17. Match Day Captain Ryan Keary gave a passionate speech and the kick off reception plan was changed, with an opportunity to make amends available quickly after Tom Morton kicked a penalty for 15-17. Amazingly Keary seemed to have a magnet on him for the ball dropped to him, safely taken, and shipped to Morton for an escape kick that gain territory and belief back in SRFC. Suddenly they had scored but were straight into the opposition half with the momentum now turned. Keary caught almost every kick off for the rest of the game.
Structure is a key word and this showed through rolling mauls starting to gain ground, with scrum half Francesco Chilvio sniping over for one after great forward work and flanker Josh Rihan scoring directly from the back off the stampeding maul after a line out move. Whether it was momentum, fitness or just SRFC nailing their game plan but now Aldershot's big runners were not making any ground and everything SRFC tried seemed to come off. SRFC did not have a single scrum all day (fair play to Aldershot for not a single knock on here, apart from one intentional which gave a full penalty!) but the big boys managed to win 4 against the head and the backs' kicking tactics started to pin Aldershot back. A shout out to Andy Campbell for a big dump tackle which was matched by the rest of the forwards putting in big hits.
A well mannered game, with an excellent referee, suddenly erupted when an Aldershot player started unleashing punches on prop Lawrence Green in a ruck. Those nearby say the ref was stood counting as it reach 6 punches to the head, with no retaliation. A red card was given, with no debate, which pretty much ended the game. With the added space student centre Rob Cheal finished off a flowing move to move it to 39-17 to the home side. Club Captain Andy Campbell got his 50 cap reward a week after he would have liked, when he scored a very smart blind side attack move with a dive to the line in the corner. 44-17.
SRFC now face tough side Farnborough away next Saturday which will be a real test and hopefully a good match.