Match report by Richard V Isaacs

Hampshire’s hopes of reaching back-to-back quarter-finals of the Jason Leonard Under 20s County Championship were dashed as they fell to a narrow 13-12 defeat to Gloucestershire in a competitive contest at Havant on Sunday.

In the match postponed following last weekend’s heavy snow, it was a game of missed opportunities for the hosts as well as falling foul of some indiscipline and taking the wrong options late on.

It was an even contest for the first half hour.  Gloucestershire full-back Tom Webb slotted a penalty after 16 minutes before Cameron McDonald narrowly missed a chance to level five minutes later.

However, the last ten minutes of the first half saw the game turn on its head with the Devonian official dishing out four yellow cards in the space of seven minutes.

It was first Hampshire prop George Cotterell, then the two wingers on the far side of the pitch Alex Gooch and Sam Polledri and they were followed just before the break by Hampshire’s other winger Jerome Rudder, who was binned after knocking on attempting an interception.

In the melee of card wielding, Gloucestershire did extend their lead with a simple penalty by Webb to open up a 6-0 interval advantage.

The penalty count was mounting rapidly against the home side and it certainly gave the coaching staff plenty to consider as they went into the break. 

With Hampshire still down to twelve men, they came out for the second half with real purpose and were rewarded five minutes in.

Some slick passing opened up some space in the Gloucestershire defence out wide and number eight Harry Norton (Exeter University) powered over in the corner to cut the lead to a single point.

That score boosted Hampshire hopes and they returned to the Gloucestershire 22 immediately but a stray pass allowed the visitors winger Will Baldwin (Cinderford) to sprint 95 yards to score under the posts – Webb making no mistake with the extras.

The game ebbed and flowed as both sides tried to break their opponents resolve but Hampshire continued to be on the wrong side of the match officials decisions.

With just eight minutes left on the clock, Hampshire crossed for a second time when Bracknell prop George Cotterell was released to pile over the line to make it a one point game once more – McDonald slotted the conversion.

It set up a thrilling conclusion to the game as Hampshire once again came hard at the Gloucestershire line and saw their opponents reduced to 14 with a fifth yellow of the afternoon.

Hampshire were, however, guilty of being too hasty in their decision making and spurned two eminently kickable opportunities as the clock wound down.

The first, receiving a penalty some 30 yards out and the second, given one when camped on the line was reversed by the referee after it was taken quickly with a Gloucestershire man injured.

In the end, it was to cost Hampshire the win and subsequent qualification as the final whistle blew and gift Gloucestershire a place in the last eight.

Hampshire will rue the missed opportunities in both the away game at Cornwall and in this game against Gloucestershire.  Matches are won and lost in key moments – it wasn’t to be this year.

 Cameron McDonald (Bracknell), Alex Gooch (Chobham), Eddie Jenkinson (University of Birmingham), Russell Bennett (London Irish Wild Geese), Jerome Rudder (Havant), Nick Blumlein (Petersfield), Josh Prior (Wimborne); Elliott Bellman (Havant), Stanley North (Hartpury University), George Cotterell (Bracknell), Ed Grinsted (University of Exeter), Rob Cuffe (Havant), Matt Whitehead (Havant), Josh Moore (University of Swansea – capt), Harry Norton (University of Exeter).  Replacements: Alex Hankins (University of Portsmouth), Oliver Cook (Winchester), Toby Warburton (London Scottish), Mua Inoke (Camberley), Mikey Gorry (Oxford University), Sam Bridges (St Paul’s College), Cameron McGuigan (Havant).



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