Havant 41 – 24 Bishops Stortford

The Blue and Whites returned to winning ways, and in doing so secured a vital win in their bid to retain National League rugby at Hooks Lane.

A bright sunny afternoon was perfect for running rugby, and those that deserted their arm chairs were treated to a high scoring encounter, although both respective coaching teams will be concerned over defensive frailties no doubt.

The Hav’s patched up squad welcomed the return of tight head Tom Wells, allowing Al Davenport to switch to loose head with Tommy Horn retaining the hookers slot, and Ash Wheeler moving to the bench.

In the 2nd row Rich Neal was partnered by Chris Thompson, and the back row saw skipper Gavin Hart joined by Pete Whelan at openside and Dom Porter at blindside.

The back division remained unchanged from the line up against Dorking, other than the significant return of Jarryd Robinson on the wing. Joining Ash Wheeler on the bench was back row Luke Barfoot, and a first cap for centre George Wheeble.

Steve Stapleton led out the Hav to mark his 100th cap and for the experienced centre it was ultimately to be a rewarding 100th outing.

For once the Hooks Lane men were swiftly out of the blocks, and having recycled the ball quickly on a couple of occasions, James Mcseveney spread the ball wide finding full back David Keyte and although checked, the ball reached the flying Dickie Duke who raced home out wide to shock a Stortford outfit, who had beaten Hampshire rivals Basingstoke away the week before. James Mcseveney added a fine conversion for 7-0 on [1].

The south coast men immediately piled on the pressure once more, and the visitors transgressed in slowing the ball down on the 10 metre line, with Mcseveny drilling over the shot for 10-0 on [6].

Once again Stortford transgressed on 13but this time the long range penalty drifted wide, but then the Blue and Whites struck again, after several good carries by the forwards the ball was recycled and moved wide here Jarryd Robinson cruised around the remaining defence, and worked his way close to the uprights leaving Mcseveny to add the afters and 17-0 on [15].

At this stage it was a far more determined Hav defence as well, and although Mcseveney missed a further shot on 24 the home side were in rampant mood, and the Kiwi out half sliced open the away defence, and looking like he was going to score himself was tackled a few metres short but fortunately the offload reached Robinson to cross for his second, David Keyte drilling over the afters for 24-0 on [30], and shortly afterwards after number 8 Gav Hart had driven deep into Stortford territory, the ball was re-cycled quickly, and veteran centre Steve Stapleton capped his day by shrugging off the last line of defence to crash over leaving Dave Keyte to add the afters for staggeringly 31-0 on [36].

At this point the Hertfordshire men looked in for a hammering as a long Mcseveney break was only just snuffed out, but all to often small details turn games, and as the Hampshire men piled forward once more, the other wise immaculate Hart looking to breach the final line of defence, found only the welcoming hands of winger Wesley, who just held off the closing Robinson to go the distance for 31-7 at the break, after a further penalty shot squandered this time by Keyte.

It was no surprise that with the wind and the stinging words no doubt of coach Pete Englebrecht in their ears that the 5th place side came out flying in the 2nd half, and after only 5 minutes they reduced the deficit through fullback Rea for 31-12 on [45].

And it was now Stortford who were scrummaging and linking well, and throwing everything at the Hav who were not helped by losing James Mcseveney and Gav Hart to the bin, however the defence held, and putting several phases together, Grant Morris moved into his accustomed 9 spot at a ruck, and responding to the call of winger Dickie Duke chipped over the home defence, Duke winning the race to the corner for 36-12 on [64], and surely game over.

However, Stortford were not finished, and sparked by a fantastic solo try by replacement 9 McMillan, and then a further score by Rea, converted by Cattall, they worked back to 36-24 on [72], with a nervous finish in prospect,but on this day as the pace told on both sides, the home side worked there way back up to the line, and battered away without result for 5 minutes.

However, the game was clinched when turning over ball on their own 10 metre line, lock Rich Neal who had been an impressive ball carrier all afternoon, galloped down a gaping blind side, timed his pass to perfection which saw replacement prop Ash Wheeler showing a good turn of pace over 15 metres to finish the scoring at 41-24.

And that was the final score of a pulsating encounter, which left both sets of fans breathless.

DOR Adam King commenting mused “This was a massive 5 points for us, and a great confidence booster, although once more we let a side back in rather than kill the game off.

In what has been a tremendously hard season with our crippling injury list, the pleasing aspect for the future is how some of our young charges are stepping up to the plate.

We now have 2 massive matches at Tring and Basingstoke which could dictate the future of National League rugby at Hooks Lane, but we can go into these in good heart.