Alton Silverbacks’ threadbare squad were put to the sword by Winchester, who ran out convincing 64-10 winners at Anstey Park.
With over half of the potential first team squad missing, Alton cobbled together a team once more but were no match for a well drilled Winchester in their first meeting in nearly ten years.
Alton started strongly and there was no sign of the oncoming onslaught as they took the game to Winchester playing down the slope in first half.
Helped by some early penalties from the visitors, Alton dominated early territory and possession.
Joe Gwyther narrowly a missed a penalty from near halfway and then kicked a superb 50:22 to within seven metres. More penalties followed and, playing with the advantage, Gwyther’s long pass found Ben Burrage who offloaded to Simon Lerigo and the left winger scored from close range.
It was one-way traffic for the first ten minutes and a team warning was given to Winchester for repeated infringements.
In the set piece, Winchester were superior in every aspect. Their lineout and scrum were never really under much pressure and Dan Farr at scrum half struggled to get any clean ball from Alton’s set piece.
Out wide, the Winchester wings moved the ball well and quickly levelled the scores from their first incursion into the Alton 22. Farr intercepted to stop another attack soon afterwards, but moments later the forwards combined to score from a rolling maul.
Winchester were now playing with lots of confidence and scored two further tries in quick succession as they ran the ball wide left to lead 24-7 after 25 minutes.
A Lewis New tackle forced Winchester to concede a penalty for holding on as a fifth try looked likely, but the hosts’ defence was creaking and was not helped when Jeremy Powell was sinbinned for entering the ruck from the side on the halfway line.
The Alton players were obviously left feeling aggrieved by this decision, which did seem a little harsh after the numerous early penalties conceded by Winchester and there was no imminent chance of scoring.
A Gwyther penalty brought Alton to back within two scores but clever interplay by the Winchester backs on the right wide quickly restored the advantage to 29-10 at half time.
Playing down the slope, Winchester ran away with the second half, although for a 20-minute period the game was largely played in midfield and Alton fought well to keep the score respectable.
All the second half tries were scored down the wings as Winchester spread the ball wide at every opportunity. Winchester were again warned after three successive penalties by them, but Alton were restricted to the odd chance from quick Gwyther penalties.
The visitors’ defence never looked likely to be breached and they ran out comfortable winners in the end.
Alton’s priority is clear, they need to get some of the squad back in training and as quickly as possible. You can never fault the attitude of this squad and there is room for optimism.
With the new league format, Alton have faced a baptism of fire as they have also faced two teams with larger squads who have played at a higher level for recent years.
Next up for Alton is a trip to Havant II, who went undefeated last season in the Hampshire Premier, followed by old derby rivalries against Basingstoke and Petersfield.
Report by Gary Brench