Rugby: Chichester can hold heads high despite derby defeat

Ed Bowden makes a break towards the East Grinstead line / Picture by Kate Shemilt
Ed Bowden makes a break towards the East Grinstead line / Picture by Kate Shemilt

A rip-roaring Sussex derby at home to East Grinstead brought end-to-end action and a very good and encouraging performance by the Blues - but the National three London south-east clash ended in a 26-17 defeat.

They raised their game against powerful opponents and gave them a hard physical test from start to finish.

EGs just deserved to win but Chi were denied a worthy bonus point for a second consecutive game. They matched the visitors for most of the time but were undone by two lightning strikes by the EG wingers in the second half.

Chi must take heart from this and continue to oppose leading teams with the same motivation and confidence. Tight-head Phil Veltom was their outstanding player, carrying with great strength and always a menace to the EGs defence.

Injuries meant Chi had no first-XV loose-head prop available and had to call out of retirement the evergreen Nick Shopland, aged 49, surely a league record for seniority.

Mark Giddings returned at hooker and Tom Polhill inside centre. Tom Lowe at flanker and at Ed Bowden No8 made their first starts of the season.

It had been a rousing and intriguing battle with no quarter given. Chichester can go to third-placed Westcombe Park this weekend with more confidence.

The pitch was in fine condition for open rugby. EGs included several players who have played at higher levels.

Chi kicked off, won possession and kept the ball for four minutes, working phases across the pitch with secure passing to both wings. EGs defended without alarm and handled for the first time, fly-half Prescott finding touch with a long kick.

Chi won a lineout and ran again. EGs got in a tangle on their 22, Bowden snatched the ball and raced along the left touch, offloading to the supporting Chris Johnson to score the first try on ten minutes. Alex Marsh kicked a good conversion.

EGs replied soon with forwards and backs moving swiftly and Chi went offside. A penalty to touch was followed by a lineout and driving maul for No8 Clayton to touch down and Prescott to convert.

Veltom and Johnson carried the ball strongly but EGs swept back and Chi infringed a number of times trying to stop their maul. They finally won a penalty to clear from a battle five metres out but the heroic Shopland had received a team yellow card for entering the maul at the side.

Chi attacked against solid tackles but a wayward kick and then a penalty gave EGs another lineout followed by scrums and short passes for lock Cashmore to dive over. Conversion missed.

Chi pressed forward, full-back Jack Maslen almost through but with a foot out of touch. Forwards and backs combined,scrum half Harry Seaman and fly half Richard Adams supplying good ball.

A penalty and lineout put them five metres out and they strained to breach well-organised defence.

EGs managed to turn it over and clear to touch. Lowe made a big catch at a lineout and Veltom led the drive to the line.

EGs went offside in front of the posts, Chi played on with free ball called and Adams sent a high kick to the right corner,

The EGs catcher failed and Maslen robbed him to crash over. Conversion from the touchline was missed, so it was 12-12 at the break.

Kieran Richter had already come on as front-row replacement and now experienced Ben Polhill replaced Lowe, who had done a good job at openside flanker.

He launched the first attack by the backs with Johnson carrying it further in his familiar battering style.

But suddenly, EGs won their scrum on their 22 and sent a pass to the accelerating right winger Hihetah, who gassed past three groping tackles with body swerves outside and inside. He completed a great try at the posts for an easy conversion by Prescott.

Chi tackled firmly to stop EGs twice and began to apply their own pressure for the next ten minutes, when a score was vital.

Phil Dickin claimed the ball twice in lineouts as Chi advanced to Vulture’s Corner. Maslen and left winger Paddy MacEnri nearly got past the cover and the Blues pack hammered at the line but were twice held with inches to spare.

They tried hard again but the scrum was penalised for wheeling and a crooked lineout throw foiled another chance. EGs had survived and returned to the attack.

Chi had to tackle like demons ten and then five metres out and survive scrums from penalties before they won their own penalty.

The killer blow came out of the blue. EGs left winger Copsey fielded a loose kick and went like a knife through butter, attempted tackles falling off, and when caught five metres out he offloaded to the supporting Dickson to score an excellent try. Prescott converted.

Only eight minutes were left but Chi wanted at least a losing bonus. The pack drove,backs ran and replacement Danny Gray sent a penalty to the right corner.

A driving maul went in and Johnson pressed down for his second try. Conversion missed - 26-17.

They finished with another good raid by the backs and won a penalty.There was no time left for a lineout, Gray took the kick from the tee 30m out and halfway to touch but the ball drifted just wide of the upright.

It had been a rousing and intriguing battle with no quarter given. Chichester can go to third-placed Westcombe Park this weekend with more confidence. Kick-off in Orpington is at 2pm – all support welcome.

CHICHESTER: Shopland, Giddings, Veltom, O’Callaghan, Dickin, Johnson, Lowe, Bowden, Seaman, Adams, MacEnri, T Polhill, Marsh, Bonds, Maslen. Reps: Richter, B Polhill, Gray.

ROGER GOULD

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