US Portsmouth lift curtain on new era with first competitive win for 952 days

US Portsmouth returned to league rugby with their first competitive win for a remarkable 952 days.

Monday, 20th September 2021, 10:56 am
USP's Sam Masters scores a try against Romsey. Picture: Keith Woodland

In their first Hampshire League 1 game of 2021/22, USP lifted the curtain on a new era by beating Romsey 31-24 at Burnaby Road.

It was the club’s first league victory since defeating Petersfield in a London 3 South West fixture on February 9, 2019.

USP lost all their remaining games that season with the losing streak carrying on the following season. With players starting to drift away, the club failed to fulfil three London League fixtures before withdrawing in November 2019.

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USP's Callum Cells in possession against Romsey. Picture: Keith Woodland

USP spent most of lockdown rebuilding and have re-entered league rugby two tiers lower than they left it.

A squad featuring 11 debutants gave hope that happier times are around for the corner for a club that once played regular fixtures against some of the top teams in the country in the pre-professional days.

After a Covid-hit pre-season, USP welcomed Romsey not having had any friendlies. ‘But you wouldn’t have known that with the blistering pace the game kicked off at, reported team manager Joel Crook.

USP led after just three minutes, Mark Humberstone touching down in the corner.

USP's Sam Masters. Picture: Keith Woodland

Straight from the restart, Romsey hit back with a penalty.

The pace continued to be frantic and the returning Henry Young spotted a hole in the visiting defence to go in underneath the posts. Co-captain Lewis Murray’s conversion gave USP a 12-3 lead after only seven minutes.

The outstanding Bailey Barnes, on his debut, produced an incredible turnover on the US 22m, but this only delayed the inevitable as on 16 minutes Romsey crossed the line after constant pressure for 12-10.

‘In the heat and with the lack of match fitness, it was impossible for either side to keep this pace of play up,’ said Crook.

USP's Will Rolfe. Picture: Keith Woodland

So it proved, as the majority of the rest of the half was played in the middle 20m of the pitch with neither side able to gain much of an advantage.

The second half started at the same pace as the first half and within five minutes Barnes grabbed a try in the left-hand corner to make it 17-10.

On the hour mark, returning club captain Phil Gilliland - making his first USP appearance in three years, rolled back the years and re-created his famous Shamrock Shuffle to make the yards before being stopped just short of the line. Ryan Merrikin was on hand to mop up at the back of the

resulting ruck to make the score 24-10 after the successful conversation.

USP's James Schad (red cap). Picture: Keith Woodland

Romsey brought the score back to 24-17 with 15 minutes remaining and shortly after levelled with another converted try.

USP hit back and, after some great play in by scrum half Callum Cells, the ball made its way to Masters who sprinted in from 40 metres out to give Murray a relatively simple conversion - 31-24 with only eight minutes remaining.

‘All our hard work paid off - we put a good performance together,’ summed up Crook.

‘It was important we started well - positivity breeds positivity.

‘The most important thing is giving players the chance to play rugby again and to develop.

‘If that also means winning games, that’s fantastic.’

USP's Lewis Murray. Picture: Keith Woodland

USP’s new-look squad includes players who came through the club’s junior system prior to then playing elsewhere.

Crook added: ‘We still had six or seven players unavailable.

‘We’ve got a squad of around 25 but all it takes is for a few to be injured or not available …

‘Our goal this season is to field two teams on the same day - that’s something we want to do two or three times. We’re looking to build and create a one squad ethos.’

USP host Ventnor next weekend before a Portsea Island derby with Portsmouth 2nds.