In their first-ever game against league leaders Westcombe Park, Chichester suffered their first defeat of the National three London and south east season, going down 25-14.
It was a stirring contest, fast and physical as expected, with the men from Orpington clinching the win thanks to their stronger pack.
This enabled them to keep the play as tight as possible and combined with good defence to contain Chi’s dangerous backs.
The Blues, playing in change strip of red and blue hoops, made it very hard for them and it was the 70th minute before their chance slipped away.
A sad mistake in the last play meant they also missed out on a losing bonus point they had deserved. Combe are strong, especially in the front five, and clearly promotion candidates. They deserved the points in the end but may like to reflect on a couple of their actions which could have resulted in straight red cards.
There was a large crowd to see the top two, including many Combe supporters. Chi were without Phil Dickin and Sam Pitchford so Aaron Davies and Rhys Gillings joined the forwards. Jack Bentall moved to inside centre with Jon Lindsay and Sam Renwick on the bench.
Chi kicked off and the tension was obvious after they drove forward. A high tackle on a Chi player caused upset and handbags, the offender spoken to by the referee and Henry Anscombe stroking three points from the penalty.
Ping-pong kicks were followed by a crooked lineout throw by Chi and a scrum and penalty to Combe which was slotted.
Chi attacked with good movement in the backs and a Combe reply was spoilt by a forward pass. Chris Johnson charged on and good hands across the backs led to one of those critical moments.
Full-back Richard Adams was up in support and accelerated along the right wing. He opted for the outside step to beat the last man but was met with a hard tackle which knocked him into touch. The pressure on the Combe 22 was maintained but the defence was solid with firm tackles.
Combe went to the other end and threatened but were penalised for not releasing at the breakdown.
From a Chi lineout, fly-half Danny Gray was smashed to the ground by a reckless high tackle which appeared to be aimed at his neck. The Combe outside centre was sin-binned. Anscombe kicked the penalty confidently.
Combe’s scrum and maul gave ominous signs of intention, winning a penalty which was kicked well wide. Chi had to show their own firm defence as the visiting backs warmed up. But they obstructed at their own lineout and Combe carefully scrummed and mauled towards the right corner.
From another set-piece scrum half Roux used his great strength to dive through firm tackles and press down for the first try in injury time before the break. Half-time saw Chi trail 8-6.
Chi were first to attack again with Davies and Bentall leading but a bad tap-back at a lineout caused trouble and Adams covered to prevent a break.
Driscoll seized a dropped ball and kicked forward, Rory Tanner following to win a scrum 12 metres out. There was slick handling in the backs but once more Chi were forced into touch.
Tanner was nearly through in the centre and Combe were penalised for holding on, Anscombe making no mistake with the penalty. Chi back in the lead 9-8.
Either side could win the day and Combe managed to up their game. They pressed Chi to the 22 with their inside centre and winger showing their speed.
A scrum and penalty took them to the left corner and Chi held on but were unable to resist a final drive over for a try by flanker Covington.
Chi had a setback when hard-working tight-head Joe Woods was yellow-carded for a scrum offence.
There was a second misfortune when young hooker Joe Shopland received a hard punch in the middle of a maul and left the pitch in a dazed state.
Combe launched their backs and winger Lewis took the ball at full pace to plunge over at the right corner, just beating tackles.
Chi showed heart and fitness as they clawed back into it. Quick passing by Bentall and half break by Aaron Lowe sent Leon Driscoll over at the left corner with tackler around him. The conversion was missed so it was 18-14 with just five minutes left.
With Chi unable to get to Combe’s half, at least the bonus point seemed assured, but it was not to be. A bad pass in front of their own posts meant Renwick was nailed in possession on the try line. He was not tackled to the ground but the referee awarded a Combe scrum.
As the scrums had already become uncontested because of Chi’s problems, it was fairly easy for Combe back-row replacement Arvier to collect their winning bonus with a fourth try, which was converted.
It had been quite a battle in front of an appreciative crowd.
This week another big game at East Grinstead (3pm) – lots of support needed.
CHICHESTER: Woods, Shopland, Belcher, Blount, Davies, Polhill, Gillings, Johnson, Anscombe Gray Driscoll Bentall Lowe Tanner Adams Antonio Lindsay Renwick.