Chichester deservedly won a nail-biting top-of-the-table London one south clash Basingstoke 10-6 by scoring a dramatic last minute try.
They had fought hard against very strong opponents and had the lion’s share of possession and attacking play.
The scrums were fairly even throughout but Chichester gained superiority at the lineout and were more cohesive at the breakdowns. Their forwards fronted up and secured the possession to cross the try line.
Stoke had their moments but indiscipline cost them and the threat from their backs was limited by good defence and their own mistakes. The Blues scored two tries to two penalties and they now have a five-point lead over second-placed Sidcup.
On a fantastic pitch watched by a decent crowd including many Chichester supporters, the Blues welcomed back two long-term casualties at centre in Tom Polhill and Richard Deed.
Also returning from injury was Nial Goldie at blindside flanker. Jamie Knowles stepped up to fly-half with Stuart Pearham switching to full-back.
Stoke started well and only a brilliant tackle from behind by Deed prevented a try. Chichester won their first scrum and a lineout catch by Ben Polhill saw Scott Barlow carrying over the gain line. A scrum was taken against the head and Moses Kasujja was forced out from an attempted lineout break.
Stoke’s No8 threatened with a powerful run before a Chichester move out to their backs brought a penalty – with no result.
It was Stoke’s turn to win scrum against the head and a kick ahead was chased back by Billy Toone to escort it for a dropout. Stoke were penalised in the centre but Pearham’s 40m kick passed right of the posts.
Chichester spent the last 15 minutes trying to penetrate the defence. A series of catch and drives from lineouts brought them into the corner but they were held up by solid tackles.
Toby Golds received a pass from Pearham but was flattened by a high tackle and the Stoke inside centre was sin-binned. Barlow caught and ran from the lineout but was brought down just short of the line. As the Blues ramped up the pressure, Stoke defended for their lives. An intense first half ended 0-0.
The Blues forwards re-entered the fray with a new determination.
A Golds kick ahead was too long. Both teams exchanged good kicks as they probed for gaps and fought hard at ground level for possession.
Front-row men Nick Shopland, Rob Lawrence and Phil Veltom upped the ante. Stoke had quick ball from a scrum but they kicked instead of retaining possession and the ball crossed the deadball line.
The backs passed for Tom Polhill to break and win a penalty. The kick passed just left of the upright. Chichester were penalised for handling in the ruck and Stoke fly-half Humberstone gave them the lead. The Blues were stung and reacted. Jack Taggart and Veltom drove hard and earned a penalty. Opting for the kick to the right corner, the catch and drive was held by Stoke.
From the scrum, Kasujja picked up from the rear and with an expert turn of his body crashed over for the try.
Ben Polhill stopped Stoke with one of several tackles and Chichester had to clear hastily from behind their line. A late tackle on Deed resulted in a sin-bin for Stoke’s open-side flanker.
Chichester surprisingly allowed Stoke’s scrum-half to break, followed by a penalty which Humberstone landed from distance to put Stoke 6-5 up. Chichester’s steel and team spirit were needed and with time running out they controlled a drive towards the left corner. The splendid pack drove and rucked.
Another yellow card shown to Stoke for infringements to stop the Chichester momentum. Another pick and go with the final well-earned reward as the mighty Veltom plunged over.
There was no conversion but the whistle blew and Chichester had done it: a tremendous finish and result which will remain in the memories of the many supporters who made the trip.
Chichester’s next challenge is against Hove this week (3pm).
CHICHESTER: Shopland, Lawrence, Veltom, Barlow, Taggart, Goldie, B Polhill, Kasujja, Toone, Knowles, Golds, T Polhill, Deed, Robson, Pearham, Gingell, Dickin, Heaver.