BASINGSTOKE RFC opened up a seven point gap at the top of the Hampshire Premier after a thrilling 20-17 victory at second placed Sandown and Shanklin, writes BRAD Turner.

The thrilling clash saw a 50th cap for Rhyan Harmon, and a debut for Adam Richards at centre.

Stoke started up the slope against a Sandown side who came out to make an early statement, which is exactly what they did.

From the kick off Sandown controlled the ball well, not allowing Basingstoke into the game before getting over the line from a driving maul.

Poor discipline allowed them to work up the pitch with ease and ultimately take the first points of the game, with the conversion making it 7-0.

This was somewhat of a wake up call for Stoke, who then decided to up the pressure and play their rugby in the oppositions half. Basingstoke upped their physicality and started to play into their patterns, before some strong forwards play saw Brad Turner bolt over the line making the score 7-5.

Sandown again came out quickly from the kick off, and although Basingstoke's defence was solid for some time, they found room on the touch line to get their second try of the game, making the score 12-5 to the hosts.

This unusual position for Stoke to be in clearly had an effect on their play, as they now upped the pressure even further.

The following 15 minutes saw the visitors camped in Sandown's half, with Kurtis Eagle slotting a penalty to shorten the points difference, and then having two tries disallowed.

The pressure finally showed with more work from both the forwards and backs carrying hard into contact, eventually resulting in number 8 Simon Appleby getting a score. This made it 13-12 to Basingstoke to close the half.

Stoke came into the second half with more of the same, again putting on the pressure in the hosts half for some time, before a dangerous tackle saw the Sandown number 2 sin-binned.

The visitors used this extra man advantage to extend their lead, using their strong line-out and maul to send Appleby over for his second of the game. This was converted by Eagle to make it 20-12.

Sandown same back stronger again from this, and were knocking at Stoke's door for the remainder of the half.

The visitors defence was solid, but similar to Sandown's previous try, they managed to find space out wide and score. The conversion was missed which left the score at 20-17 for the final minutes of the game.

Also on Saturday, the Basingstoke Dragons complete back to back wins for the first time this season with 29-22 win over Fareham Heathens. Jordan Plenderleith was again instrumental in both attack and defence for the second week in a row. It is great to see the availability increasing and momentum building in the seconds, and soon should be able to field a third team again. Next up for the Dragons is an away fixture against Nomads on January 26, while the first team are at home to Gosport and Fareham II.