After two victories in pre-season friendlies, Bognor began their Hampshire one league campaign in frustrating fashion when they contrived to lose 24-22 to the lively but limited students of Solent University - despite enjoying 80 per cent of the possession.
Even up until the dying seconds the home side were hammering away at the opposition line, only to be thwarted by a combination of great defence and poor decision-making, a solitary losing bonus point being their sole reward.
Bognor, playing against the strong wind in the first half, looked rusty for the first ten minutes and conceded two penalties in quick succession, the second of which was converted by the Solent kicker. Some big tackles were going in, notably from second row Chris Misselbrook, but unforced errors from their young backs began to put the team under pressure.
After 15 minutes, Bognor finally began to put some phases together, veteran flanker George Castleton crossing the line only to be pulled back for an earlier knock-on.
Harry Dyer was next to put in a colossal hit but, just when it looked as if the home side were beginning to establish a semblance of control, a misunderstanding in the three-quarters was followed by an interception and a clear run to the posts for the students’ first try.
Bognor hit back with some good structured rugby and skipper Jack Tompkins almost managed to score in the corner after some good support from Connor Satturley, making his debut on the wing. Finally a powerful run by Misselbrook ended with Dyer touching down near the posts. Lee Shergold converted to reduce the deficit to three points.
Just when the tide seemed to be turning, however, Bognor shot themselves in the foot by conceding another two long-range penalties before half-time, both of which were accepted gratefully by Solent’s excellent goal-kicker.
Head coach Steve Dove issued some calming words to his youthful team at half-time and, with the strong wind now behind them, Bognor knew the nine-point deficit was eminently retrievable.
Good field position at the start of the second half was spoilt by the loss of an attacking lineout and, with the help of a couple of missed tackles, the students were presented with their fourth penalty of the match, this time from straight in front.
Bognor’s efforts could not be faulted as they battled their way back into the match.
Scrum-half Rob Legge made amends for some erratic passing with some quite superb tackling while the forwards were totally dominant in every phase of play.
Shergold surprisingly pushed wide a simple penalty opportunity and seemingly simple scoring chances were squandered by his team-mates through inexperience and over-elaboration.
Centre Josh Riggall took matters into his own hands and went straight through the middle for a well-deserved try which was converted by Shergold.
With Bognor now just five points behind and looking favourites to go on and win, the students launched a dangerous counter-attack and their lightning-quick winger made it to the corner to extend their lead to ten points.
Shergold kicked another penalty for Bognor and Castleton almost made it over the line twice in quick succession, the second time being rather harshly penalised for not releasing.
The visitors’ pack was now in full retreat and from one scrum 20m out Tompkins fed Legge who sped over for Bognor’s third try. Shergold missed a conversion which would have brought the scores level and, agonisingly for the young fly-half, he was just wide a few minutes later with a drop-goal that would have won the match.
Iit was not his day but he is a player of tremendous potential and will doubtless learn from this experience and go from strength to strength.
In the dying minutes Bognor had yet more opportunities to win it but they failed to capitalise on yet another clear overlap. The home crowd then looked on in despair as, with the last play of the match, full-back Mike Reed ran strongly and looked certain to score the match-winning try, only to be somehow held up over the line by two defenders.
Despite the disappointment of losing, Bognor will take heart from their set-piece play and there were encouraging signs of a pattern of play beginning to emerge. They will look to continue their development this Saturday when they entertain US Portsmouth, narrow victors over Millbrook last week. (3pm).
BOGNOR: Reed, Stevens, Upton, Riggall, Satturley, Sherlock, Legge, Morgan, Ubsdell, Angelov, Harding, Misselbrook, Castleton, Dyer, Tompkins. Reps: Robinson, Barlow, Hunt.