Chichester beat Sidcup 23-19 at Oaklands Park - and just about deserved to win a hard, tense game against strong rivals.
Both sides had won four consecutive matches before this and although it was no classic, there was a fascinating duel between the forwards for possession.
The home team’s driving attack and spirited defence gave them the edge. In the final ten minutes Sidcup threw the kitchen sink at the defence but they held firm and there was rejoicing as Chichester had their first success over Sidcup after four close encounters.
Chichester are now two points ahead at the top of the table.
The Blues were missing Richard Adams, Martin O’Callaghan and Nial Goldie. Phil Veltom switched to lock, Phil Dickin to back row and Nick Shopland came in at prop. Lewis Joiner made his debut on the right wing.
The pitch was hard but well grassed and in excellent condition. Sidcup were first from the blocks and following a lineout and maul, Chichester were offside and full-back Hardy slotted three points.
Chichester’s first concerted attack gave centre Ben Robson space for a half-break but he was tackled. A Sidcup counter revealed frailty in first tackles but the Blues pack began the battle for supremacy in scrums and lineouts.
Moses Kasujja was forced into touch after a catch by Scott Barlow. Sidcup went offside and Chichester kicked the penalty to the corner.
They lost the lineout but the ball was only half-cleared and Joiner passed to Toby Golds. The full-back accelerated and weaved past tacklers to dive under the posts. Stuart Pearham added the extras.
Veltom made ground with a typical charge but was penalised for holding on at the tackle. After a kick to touch Chichester were offside at the lineout. Hardy made no mistake with the penalty.
Sidcup broke through and Golds made a try-saving tackle. The Blues swept to the other end and a backs move set up scrum-half Billy Toone for a crash across the line – only for play to be brought back for what may have been a knock-on.
Pearham kicked another penalty but Sidcup hit back with a fine break by fly-half Ubee. He passed to winger Harrison, who scored at the right corner. Hardy kicked a marvellous conversion.
Sidcup infringed as Chichester raided and Pearham made it 13-13. When an attempted drop kick was charged down, Chichester were ruled offside and Hardy put Sidcup 16-13 ahead at half-time.
The measured kick-off was brilliantly seized by the sprinting Ben Polhill and he and Veltom worked the ball back for Pearham to land a good drop goal.
Greyhound Mark Giddings ran 45m with the full-back to beat. It looked a try but his pass to the supporting winger was dropped.
Chichester pressed with forward drives led with determination by captain Scott Barlow, mauls controlled by Rob Lawrence and hard work in the front-row boiler room. Giddings and Lawrence were forced into touch and loose head prop Ash Wheeler was injured.
Pearham just missed a long-range penalty and for Sidcup, Hardy kicked his fourth penalty.
More hard work by Barlow saw the ball scooped up by Giddings. His speed from their 22 splintered the Sidcup defence and over he went for a great solo try. Extras were added by Pearham.
Sidcup launched an all-out assault but the Blues pack was heroic. Roared on, they drove out from the five-metre siege and won the turnover for Kasujja to come away with the ball. The whistle signalled the job was done.
Director of rugby Paul Colley said: “It was very tough and we just about deserved the points. Our pack were terrific.”
This Saturday Chichester host Sutton & Epsom.
CHICHESTER: Wheeler, Lawrence, Shopland, Barlow, Veltom, Dickin, Polhill, Kasujja, Toone, Pearham, Fairbairn, Robson, Knowles, Joiner, Golds, Giddings, Lowe, Wagstaff.