Chichester’s 59-10 victory over Cobham in London one south was a grand celebration to round off another fine season at Oaklands Park.
Chichester supplied champagne running rugby and put Cobham to the sword, scoring nine tries and seven conversions to a converted try and a penalty.
They racked up their 800th point and 112th try in 25 league matches. It was the fifth time they had amassed 50 points or more on their home pitch. Only the outstanding Guernsey, who are favourites for the title, and Old Elthamians, set to be in the promotion play-off, proved that bit better.
As Basingstoke lost, the Blues secured third place for the second year and the squad have given excellent entertainment to their supporters.
Captain Scott Barlow and Ross Fairbairn returned and Eddie Armah replaced the injured Toby Golds on the left wing. Chichester dominated from the off against a side without their lineout specialist. Full-back Richard Adams and Armah threatened in a move along the touchline and fly-half Jamie Knowles put a penalty into the corner for a lineout and drive.
Over went the pack and Rob Lawrence showed his usual expertise in the touchdown. Knowles slotted the first of five conversions from six attempts.
The scrum put Cobham under pressure and Barlow and Nick Blount dominated the lineouts. From one, quick ball went out from Billy Toone to the centres. Right winger Fairbairn cut in at a great angle to take a flat pass and speed to the posts for the second try.
Cobham fly-half Andy Flower kicked a penalty but Chi were soon at the other end with Lawrence, Barlow and Toone making inroads. No8 Moses Kasujja picked up at the back and powered through a tackle to dive across.
Cobham intercepted an attack and Flower went on a 40m run, but when he passed the ball was snatched by Richard Deed after a great covering run followed by a towering clearance kick.
Then came a brilliant Blues move with all the backs feeding on slick passes and looping for Deed to give the final touch to Adams in the line for the pay-off.
Cobham advanced but were caught out by a remarkable counter-attack. Toone and Knowles spun it out and Deed sent Armah on a long run to the left corner. He managed to dive over with a tackler on his legs.
Phil Veltom, Blount and Lawrence probed strongly and it was 33-3 at the break.
Flanker Niall Goldie thought he scored from a tap penalty, but play was brought back and a Cobham man sent to the sin bin. Joe Woods came off the bench to replace Nick Shopland, who’d given his opposite number a hard time in the front row.
Knowles, Sam Renwick, Deed and Adams linked neatly but Adams was tackled. Chi regained possession and Toone launched Veltom, who crashed over in his typical style. Stuart Pearham replaced Knowles after his fifth conversion.
Cobham became competitive in the open play but Pearham sold a dummy and flicked on to Deed, whose overhead pass found his partner Renwick for a determined final sprint to score. The conversion was by Pearham.
Then Pearham burst out with a huge break and gassed towards the full-back with two runners outside him. Instead he went for glory and was shot down five metres out.
Cobham countered and an overlap and inside pass allowed centre Cowell to score, with extras added by Flower.
Phil Dickin came on and Lawrence had to retire with a head wound and Shopland came back on as hooker. Cobham No8 Van Niekerk worked hard and Deed had to make an excellent tackle to stop him in full flight. Ben Polhill and Veltom worked well at the breakdowns and Kasujja was menacing.
A lineout at Vultures’ Corner led to a rolling maul and a pass to Dickin on the touchline for a full-stretch touchdown. Polhill, Veltom, Toone, Renwick and Adams dazzled to win a penalty and Goldie’s quick tap and stroll across was successful.
The Blues backs had enjoyed their running on a soft pitch and the outstanding player was New Zealander Richard Deed, who has made a wonderful recovery from the double fracture of his leg in training last season.
Director of rugby Paul Colley said: “We were dominant and played quality rugby. Very good lines were run and the handling was quick and secure. We’re disappointed to have just missed promotion again but the squad have done us proud.”
The second XV were also successful, winning the Hampshire Senior Merit league and reaching this Sunday’s Sussex Bowl final against Worthing seconds.
Chichester’s last game is at Beckenham on Saturday and they then look forward to the Sussex Trophy final on May 19 at Eastbourne.
CHICHESTER: Shopland, Lawrence, Veltom, Barlow, Blount, Goldie, Polhill, Kasujja, Toone, Knowles, Armah, Renwick, Deed, Fairbairn, Adams, Woods, Dickin, Pearham.