Fordingbridge took another major step towards the Snows Group Hampshire 1 title at the weekend – but the pressure is not off yet.
Bridge managed a vital bonus point victory over battling Team Solent, who held top spot for much of the season but have now lost out on promotion.
With two games remaining, it looks like a straight fight between Fordingbridge and second-placed Andover – though, in theory, Millbrook and US Portsmouth are still in with a shout.
Fordingbridge knew the students would be a tough hurdle to clear in their pursuit for the title after being beaten by them at Test Lane in November.
However, it was a different story at Bridge’s Recreation Ground HQ with the hosts winning 33-21.
Bridge took the initiative with two early tries from Number 8 Rob Hay and David Stone before Paddy Gogin added a third.
The students battled back to within two points.
Back came Bridge to take control through their forwards, with Hay dotting down for his second and the bonus point try.
A Chris Gogin try put the game out of the reach of Solent.
Captain James Greenwood said: “It was a superb win against a mobile, strong unit. Our grit and determination, as well as our set piece dominance, mean we are still on track for our season goals.”
Andover made sure the title fight goes right to the wire with an emphatic, if unspectacular, win over struggling Southampton.
Andover scored ten tries, seven of which came in the first half, but Southampton were rewarded for never giving up with a second-half try of their own.
Two tries apiece for Matt Moore and Jack Stott led the way, with singles from Andy Franklin, Marc Wilding, Simon Preece, Nic Reed, Paul Tuinasakea and Elliott Copestake. Eight Rich Retallick conversions made up their tally.
Fordingbridge look to have the more difficult run-in out of the leading two with a trip to fourth-placed US Portsmouth on April 5 and a final game against Southampton.
Andover travel to Romsey and face bottom side Overton at home.
Millbrook made sure they are in pole position to take advantage of any slips from the leaders by defeating Alton 55-18 at Five Acres.
Early penalty exchanges and four first-half tries gave Millbrook a 27-13 lead. Good interlinking between Rhys Fehners and Dan Wade saw Wade sprint in for a try, and stalwart Mike Mulcahy, front row Leon Brito and centre Mike Thomas all crossed the line from good phase play.
The second half brought tries from Mike Randell at full back, a powerful run and finish from Macca McNeish, Aaron Race, who impressed on the wing, and a second from Mulcahy with all of them converted by second row Mark Colmer. Alton scored one of their own but the home side ran out dominant 55-18 winners.
Captain Mike Randell said: “We got another big bonus point win against determined opposition and we are finishing on a high.”
Southampton are third-from-bottom after Isle of Wight lost at Bognor.
Romsey pulled further away from the relegation zone with a bonus point success over basement side Overton.