Experience is key as Portsmouth boost escape bid

Try-scorer Adam Long. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings
Try-scorer Adam Long. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings
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Portsmouth boosted their London two south west survival chances with a hard-fought 24-15 bonus-point win over Effingham & Leatherhead at Rugby Camp.

Head coach Ian Chandler praised the mental strength of his team for producing the goods in a pressure situation.

The win keeps Portsmouth one point and one place above the drop zone with three games left to play.

Anything less than the win would have seen Chandler’s men slip into the relegation places because closest rivals Farnham pulled off a shock success at Winchester.

The head coach believes the win can give his players the belief they need to stay up.

And their next game is a crucial encounter at Farnham in a fortnight’s time.

‘This is a massively important win for us and showed just how well we can play,’ said Chandler.

‘Hopefully our players will recognise this and it will instil in them the belief they can stay up.

‘It was a very good performance against very capable opponents.

‘The key to our success was being able to bring experienced players back in along the spine of the team.

‘They freshened things up for us and gave us the added composure when we needed it.

‘I won’t say Farnham’s win took some of the gloss off our success but it brought home that we are still far from safe.’

Portsmouth dominated the opening 25 minutes – with the visitors hardly getting a look in.

Disappointingly, though, Chandler’s team could only open up a 10-point lead with tries by Ben Cummins and Adam Long.

At that point a degree of nervousness affected the home side and it looked ominous when the visitors hit back to level the scores.

Portsmouth regained the lead on the stroke of half-time.

A quickly-taken tap penalty allowed Tom Cantwell to score a try under the posts and a simple conversion followed.

It became even more tense for Portsmouth when the Surrey side pulled the scores back to 17-15 with 15 minutes left to play.

‘Fear of making a mistake meant we stopped playing sensible rugby in the second half,’ said Chandler.

‘Our play became a bit stereotyped and easy to defend against.

‘We were a bit negative, trying to shut up shop and that is difficult to do in rugby.’

Chandler, though, was delighted to see his Portsmouth team rise to the challenge.

And on 70 minutes, a great break from Long ended with Greg Hoolihan scoring under the posts.

Chris Morgan added the conversion and the hosts were home and dry.

‘We are still very much in the relegation mix – which is between us and Farnham,’ said Chandler.

‘This is our first win for six games and hopefully it will give us the confidence we need.

‘Ideally, we would win our last three games and are certainly capable of doing so.’