GFRFC title race ‘over’ after Havant defeat

By Connor Steel

GOSPORT AND FAREHAM RUGBY FOOTBALL CLUB (GFRFC) failed to close the gap on leaders Havant IIs (Dolphins) as the table-toppers clashed on Saturday afternoon, which saw Mark Pollard’s side fall to their second successive Hampshire Premier League defeat overall. The final 29-7 victory for the Dolphins sees them lead the table by fifteen points with six game-weeks left to play, but also sealed a league double having beaten GFRFC 31-26 back in November as manager Rob Packer looks for a perfect 100% winning campaign.

Havant IIs started brightly in sunny but wintry conditions at Hook Lane, scoring their first try after 8 minutes. Good interplay saw an offload find Rory Penfolds, who drifted wide and piled over into the corner for five points, although the kicker missed the conversion from a tight angle. In response play turned into a cagey battle as defences dominated, with a series of throw ins and scrums breaking up any attacking moves; although there were chances for GFRFC in good positions only for the final pass to let them down in search of a points.

But this all changed on the half hour mark with the visitors’ first and only points of the match; a ball was played back to Jimmy Wallis to slot over the line to beat defensive efforts to level the scores. In the same passage of play Dominic Holling converted for an extra two points to give the visitors their arguably deserved lead. This was an advantage that GFRFC held until the half-time whistle despite an exciting opening for Ash Wakefield that concluded with a knock-on; the referee blowing for a limited interval with the score at 5-7 to GFRFC.

Havant came out firing after the break as they scored another try within two minutes of restarting, a long ball forward capitalised on by Ryan Ray and the player made absolutely no mistake to make the scores 10-7. A third try came on forty-eight minutes as Harry Rabjohn created space and jinxed past defenders before touching down; adding the extra two points with the boot seconds later. The hosts were then reduced to 14 men as a player was shown a yellow card on fifty-six minutes after a scrum offence to give GFRFC an outside chance.

But the visitors didn’t take advantage and were punished when Havant returned to full numbers as a bonus point try arrived after 68 minutes; Christian Roberts running under the touchline and Rabjohn added the points to kill the game as a contest. And after Havant saw another yellow card, the final score came in the 80th minute with a fifth try for the hosts; Jez Smith outpacing tiring legs down the right and running into the corner for another five points, with no conversion as Havant sealed a 27-7 victory to all but seal the league title.

GFRFC remain second and sit seven points clear of Bognor in third, having won 13 out of 16 games played this campaign in comparison to Havant’s one-hundred percent win record. Another away match versus New Milton & District await Mark Pollard’s side on Saturday afternoon before hosting Sandown & Shanklin on February 26. Havant II will play the same two teams but on alternative weekends before early March as they look to break a points record and win every game of the campaign come April 2.

PICTURED BY SAM STEPHENSON: Two sides clash in scrum during big Havant victory that virtually seals their title win with six games to play.