Counties Two Hampshire rugby: Ellingham & Ringwood win title with bonus-point win against Fordingbridge on final day
Counties Two Hampshire
Fordingbridge RFC 10
Ellingham & Ringwood RFC 31
ELLINGHAM & Ringwood left it until the season's last day to move into the top spot, securing the Counties Two Hampshire title with a thrilling victory over Fordingbridge.
The New Forest side came into the contest knowing a bonus-point victory would secure the league and promotion, swiping the title away from local rivals New Milton – who led for nearly the entire season – and Bognor, who were beaten on points difference.
With what appeared to be half the population of Ringwood watching from the touchline, head coach Alan Steel's Elligham side applied pressure to the 'Bridge defensive line from the off, with the forwards making good ground before flanker Lewis Nicholl broke through several tackles to crash over the line to score, Chris Frost kicking the conversion.
Fordingbridge proved worthy adversaries, especially in the scrums, a hard-fought area of the game all afternoon. However, Ellingham continued to turn the screw, and after some good link-up play by the forwards, Sammy Veneroso collected the ball, sold a dummy and darted over the line to score a great try.
That stirred Fordingbridge into action. They started to test Ellingham's defence, who were eventually penalised. Fordingbridge captain Mark Hammond took responsibility and kicked the penalty to put them on the score sheet.
The Ellingham forwards still had their counterparts' numbers, and number eight Andrew Lorton soon made it a happy return from injury, using his strength to dive over and score.
With the first-half clock running down, Ellingham went searching for the all-important fourth try which, if they won, would secure the promotion and the league title.
Once again, the forwards provided the platform, with Sammy Veneroso using his elusive skills to outfox the Fordingbridge defence and score his second of the game, which Frost converted for a 24-3 lead.
After the break, Fordingbridge's Patrick Fielder dashed through at great speed to score a well-worked try, with Hammond slotting the extras.
The game continued to be competitive, which one would expect from a local derby, even after Fordingbridge had to play with one player fewer thanks to a yellow card to full-back Albert Hebburn-Heath.
Ellingham went one better, containing the Fordingbridge attacks and not conceding any points despite yellow cards to forwards Andrew Lorton and James Fisher.
As the match neared its conclusion, replacement Brad Thomas crashed through a couple of tackles and dived over the line to score Ellingham's fifth under the posts, Frost again kicking the conversion. But the drama was not over, as Fordingbridge had yellow cards shown to two players and Ellingham's James Fisher received a red card for a high tackle. However, despite Fordingbridge's best efforts, Ellingham defended well and secured both the victory and the league title.
After the game, Ellingham's director of rugby Mark Johnson said: "I'm so proud that both our first and second teams won their league titles and been promoted this season.
"This was a real reward for all our players and coaches and a fitting way for our first team captain Henry Benson to end his years in the role as a league champion."