Portsmouth 15 Alton 19: Alton Silverbacks made it three wins in a row with a hard-fought win at Portsmouth after an impressive first-half display was matched in equal measure by a gritty defensive second-half performance.
Once more Alton were forced into some changes, but things are looking much brighter as they were able to field a strong-looking line-up plus a full squad for the Alton II game at Farnham.
On a dismal day, it was Alton’s expansive running game that lit up the first half and was to prove to be the difference between the two sides as Portsmouth struggled with the pace of Josh Richardson and the creativity of Gaz Schreuder throughout the match.
It was a cagey affair for the opening ten minutes with neither side being able to exert any consistent possession, but it was Alton who gradually began to dominate field possession.
In their first entry inside the 22, firstly Schreuder challenged the line and then an incisive run from Luke Parratt cut through the Portsmouth defence. The ball was quickly recycled and Lewis New put in Ed Simmons who powered over to score the opening try after 12 minutes.
Alton stifled Portsmouth at every opportunity as the hosts became increasingly frustrated by the lack of fluidity in their game.
No such issues for Alton, however, who had no hesitation in running the ball at every opportunity.
The forwards, led by the impressive running of Tyler Smith, punched holes in midfield, and the interchange between the backs repeatedly carved Portsmouth open.
Schreuder officially started at right wing but you would not have known as he was popping up all over the field. Richardson burst through on the left with intelligent running lines on two occasions and Portsmouth’s scrambled defence just managed to stop Schreuder short.
However, after 27 minutes Joe Gwyther’s clever chip kick was not gathered and Schreuder used his footballing skills to dribble the ball over the line to score a well-deserved try.
An off-the-ball incident left George Pantrey injured, resulting in a Portsmouth sinbin, but soon after Parratt was adjudged to have made a no-arms tackle and both teams were reduced to 14 men.
From the resulting penalty, Portsmouth kicked to the corner and from the line out, their forwards’ rolling maul took over and they had closed the deficit to 12-7.
You could not fault Alton’s ambition as they continued to create chances and once again it was Schreuder who finished off the half in fine style.
The opening was created on the right wing this time, and as Portsmouth closed Schreuder down he chipped over the oncoming defence. The Portsmouth full back misjudged the flight of the ball and it bounced perfectly for Schreuder who collected and joyfully scored under the posts to make it 19-7 at half-time.
The most pleasing aspect of the first half was that Alton genuinely seemed to be enjoying their rugby – and rightly so.
Portsmouth started the second half with renewed vigour and were quickly rewarded with a fine try down the left as Alton’s tackling in midfield came up short.
Schreuder once again created an opening with another cheeky kick that he regathered and offloaded to Tom Smethurst, but Alton ran out of numbers and failed to capitalise.
Both sides’ lineout was under pressure throughout and with an increasing breeze, and the error count started to increase. Schreuder replaced Pantrey at scrum half but his box kick was held up in the wind as Alton struggled to clear their lines.
Luke Harriss and Simmons combined well on the right but that was the exception as Portsmouth were now on the ascendancy in search of the try to level the scores.
They were rewarded with a penalty with less than ten minutes left to close the score to 19-15 and they seemed destined to score the winning try as they streaked down the left – only to be thwarted by some excellent last-ditch tacking.
Karter Whittock went off injured, Schreuder was sinbinned for back chat and Alton were now hanging on.
There was more tremendous defence as Alton jackalled over the ball which earned them a penalty with a minute remaining and Alton now just needed to kick for touch and secure the lineout. But as was the theme at lineout, they knocked on and Portsmouth had one more chance.
In the last play of the game they probed down the right wing but the 14 men stood strong.
However, Portsmouth recycled quickly and created an overload on the left side, but to the relief and joy of those who made the trip from Anstey, Portsmouth knocked on and it was Alton who took the spoils, deserved reward for some fantastic defence in the last ten minutes.
The whole squad should be given much credit for their turnaround in the season.
It would have been understandable for them to lose spirit after a frustrating start to the season caused largely by injuries and absences for other reasons but with some new additions and returns, they are now closing the gap on some of their nearest rivals.
Alton II Blackbacks made it a great day for the club as they won 40-10 against Farnham’s fourths.
This weekend Alton Silverbacks make another difficult trip to the south coast to play Gosport and Fareham.