Dons Come Close Against Pompey

Portsmouth 27 v Wimbledon RFC 1XV 23

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Another five minutes play and Wimbledon could well have scored an improbable win on Saturday (January 28).

With Portsmouth leading 24-6 ten minutes into the second half and their backs looking to exploit their speed, weight and organisational advantage over Wimbledon's makeshift back line – most of whom had not played together before - it looked as though the home team might run away with it.

But a superb final 30 minutes performance from Dons' pack, in which they bullied Portsmouth’s far heftier forwards, ensured Pompey's backs hardly saw the ball. On the few occasions they did, Wimbledon’s excellent back row of Callanan, Lewis and Watkins, plus an increasingly confident back line – well martialled by the evergreen Cupido – snuffed out each attack before it started.

But Portsmouth didn’t have it all their way in the first half either, managing just one try from broken play when prop Sargeant bulldozed over from 5m. Carpenter added the conversion and a penalty.

But Dons stayed in sight with two penalties from fullback Driscoll and some great play by the whole pack, the lineout in particular working well, with Callanan, Lambert or Morgan securing every one of Symons' pinpoint throw-ins.

The first ten minutes of the second half was the game’s critical period, Pompey’s centre Hodell powering in for a try after two minutes, closely followed by flanker Long running a great line to score a second, both converted by Carpenter.

Then came a fine 40m run by Dons' Lambert, taken on by the pack to within 2m of the goal line – a pop-pass from Cupido and centre Davies was in under the posts.

There was a near repeat 10 minutes later after a Callanan break, a Nonai drive, a quick feed from scrum-half Rowe, and Davies was in for his second try. Driscoll's conversions took Wimbledon to within a point, but in their eagerness to get the clincher they conceded a penalty and Carpenter’s conversion stretched the lead to four points.

Then came the passage of play which epitomised Dons' effort; Lewis broke through Portsmouth’s defence on his own 22, took the ball 45m downfield and on his shoulder was lock Morgan, who made another 10m and supporting him was prop Davies, followed by the rest of the pack. Unfortunately, the ensuing stoppage signalled the end of the game and Portsmouth breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The losing bonus point didn’t do justice to Wimbledon’s fighting performance – but it could be crucial to the relegation battle, particularly with another toughie on Saturday February 5, at home to Chichester.

February 4, 2011