The University of Portsmouth’s Men’s Rugby 1st team fell to a controversial 8-6 defeat against the University of Southampton’s Men’s Rugby 1st team in front of a raucous HMS Temeraire crowd to round off an enjoyable if unsuccessful Varsity 2015 between the two old rivals.
The game started at a frenetic pace with Pompey pushing the tempo even more so in search of something which would have got the crowd to rise even louder.
Southampton, typically, were tough in the tackle and it led to ultimate frustration for Pompey in being unable to find the vital chinks in their armour.
The constant spouts of pressure from the home side eventually told. A penalty at the break down set up an easy penalty for Harry O’Brien to slot straight between the uprights and Pompey led 3-0.
The visitors took falling behind exceptionally well, their handling immediately improved and their pack began to assert their considerable size upon their south coast counterparts.
Southampton’s territorial superiority meant points were inevitable once their kicker had his eye. With 18 minutes on the clock, the points arrived.
Having seemed to compete fairly at ruck time, Pompey were penalised deep in their own twenty two, Southampton’s outhalf doing the honours from the tee to level proceedings at three apiece.
For a second time, the visitors found solace in a soft penalty afforded to them. This time they did not capitalise though, pulling the effort wide of the post.
The first mind boggling call arrived ten minutes from the break. Southampton found a gap off the back of a scrum, their centre broke the Pompey line, but was pulled down in exceptional fashion from scrum half Ben Kirby.
He turned away believing that play was continuing, and it did for about thirty seconds. Bizarrely the official then pulled the game back, calling Kirby over and sending him to the bin. A poor decision from an experienced official.
That cost Pompey, with more than just ten minutes of a numerical disadvantage. Southampton kicked for the corner, and after multiple phases in which they appeared to be gaining little ground and running out of ideas, they did find the try line.
The conversion was missed though and Southampton went into the break 8-3 in the ascendancy.
Portsmouth had a boost to start the second half as Kirby brought them back to fifteen men. No sooner had he returned to proceedings though than the home side were once again reduced to fourteen combatants.
A ruck on the stand side of the field ended with Tom Waddell hulking the Southampton winger into touch. A fracas ensued with both sides essentially throwing handbags at each other. To Waddell’s immense surprise, it was he who was beckoned by the referee.
The touch judge claimed Waddell had kicked a visiting player in the head and Waddell was dumped into the bin like half a kebab on return from a night out.
It was another staggeringly controversial call given that the crowd close to the tussle, including myself did not see any attempt of a kick, let alone direct contact from his boot.
The visitors did not capitalise on the extra man this time though, their one chance being wasted to the glee of the home support, the visiting kicker failing to find the target from a favourable angle.
As the game wore on though, Pompey began to take more risks, risking the miss for an extra couple of meters to touch. It seemed to work too, as the home side made the game even closer on the scoresheet.
Pompey forced a crossing penalty against Southampton with the speed of their line, and O’Brien capitalised.
Having missed his first attempt at goal, the referee called it back because of unnecessary movement in front of the ball from the Southampton ranks. O’Brien did not miss this time, splitting the uprights for a second time in this pulsating encounter.
The disappointing thing after this was that the home side failed to really trouble the Southampton line, with chances few and far between.
Late on, some more possible penalties were waved away by the referee who was having a game befitting that of a Romain Poite refereed Rugby match.
This meant that Pompey could not find that final opening which would have given the crowd the win they so craved, finally succumbing to a narrow and gut wrenching defeat.