BASINGSTOKE RFC have enjoyed a superb 2019 which saw them crowned Hampshire Premier champions in the spring and Stoke have been holding their own on their return to London Three South West currently sitting in fourth place., writes CHRIS PRITCHARD.

However, near neighbours upset the pre-Christmas party last Saturday as they escaped Down Grange with a 39-31 victory in a game which saw 11 tries and saw the form book well and truly ripped up.

The game began with what soon became a theme throughout the game with both sides unable to claim the kick-offs cleanly.

Stoke began the game with plenty of possession, but were unable to gain any decent territory and Andover soon profited from this.

With less than five minutes on the clock they took a surprise and unexpected 5-0 lead.

Stoke soon found themselves in a good attacking position and were soon barring down on the Andover try line, and with a penalty coming their way Kurtis Eagle tried an outrageous cross field kick that even top premiership teams would be happy to pull off, eventually landing straight into winger Matt Mairs hands and he danced past his opposite number into the corner to level the scores, Eagle unable to convert meant the scores were tied at 5-5 inside 10 minutes.

Andover gathered the restart and their forwards were again advancing towards the Stoke try line and the visitors scored a converted try.

This was soon followed by their third try of the game after again coming up with the ball from a scrappy restart and the forwards doing what they had done for most of the opening quarter of the game. Stoke defence unable to stop the bulldozing visitors who extended their advantage to 14 points.

At this point it was turning you could say into a nightmare before Christmas, though Stoke eventually got themselves some possession after James Savine gathered a loose offload and made his way upfield, Joe Bissett sniped from the base of the ruck and won a penalty after a late hit from the visitors.

Despite the kick to touch being missed Andover put the ball out and Stoke got the line out and using what has almost certainly been one of their main weapons this season, the driving maul, Tom Johnson was the one who got the ball over the line from the back of the maul to reduce the deficit to 19-10.

Just as quickly that Stoke had narrowed the gap, Andover swiftly extended it again, to secure their bonus point try inside the first half.

With less than five minutes left of the half it looked as though Stoke were going to be trailing at the break, not something that’s been the case much this season.

However that changed with Stoke getting the driving maul running again and after some quick thinking from a penalty Will Buckingham used his small frame and agile footwork to get the seventh try of the half and again reduce the gap, this converted they trailed 24-17.

Soon after, the scoreboard was level as what looked a kick to nothing from full back Ross Catlin, being picked up by the Andover wing, a tired pass went straight into the breadbasket of Catlin, who was able to dive under the posts to give Kurtis Eagle the easiest of kicks to level the score as the half time whistle went.

The second half was a bit of a slow burner, Stoke had some good possession but were again unable to reap any rewards from it.

Soon it was the visitors who were regaining control on the scoreboard after some Fijian style play, quick feet and great offloads allowed them to score the first points of the half to lead 31-24.

Andover then increased their lead from in front of the posts with three points, giving them an 10 point lead and Stoke now needing two scores to take victory.

Inevitably Andover used their big men from the restart and were soon all but sealing the victory with less than five minutes on the clock as the hosts defence was unable to stop the rampaging bulls of the opposition.

A sixth try for Andover sealed the victory and meant they were heading back down the A303 with only their second win of the campaign.

It was however Stoke who had the last word in this high scoring game, and it was almost inevitable that Simon Appleby was going to score on his big day, the fact it took until the 80th minute shows how well Andover had played.

A driving maul set up just inside the visitors 22. After a number of attempts being held up on the opposite side of the pitch, Appleby collected the ball and drove his way through the Andover defence to give Stoke a fifth try which was converted by Eagle.

Not the way that Stoke wanted to end the year but plenty of positives to look forward to when the season restarts on January 11 when Stoke welcome bottom of the league Effingham and Leatherhead to Down Grange.