When Bognor hosted the Hampshire League division-one leaders United Services in their biggest challenge of the season, they were agonisingly beaten 21-20.
Bognor started sharply, Sam Newcombe scoring a breakaway try down the right flank in front of the hundreds of league luncheon participants and Bognor ultras. The conversion was slotted by Dave Sweeney and Bognor led 7-0.
US countered quickly and their full-back and winger showed raw pace in the outside channels after evading three missed Bognor tackles. The flying winger scored in the corner to make it 7-7.
The home side knew the tie was going to be brutal and this showed, especially in the forwards. Chris Webb, Lee Balchin and Joe Burns were consistently smashing up in the loose and showed why they are so important to this developing Bognor outfit.
Billy Toone was feeding Sweeney brilliantly in the first half but the No10 was pressured all day by the US back row.
The referee dominated discussions as Bognor were shown two yellow cards within the first 30 minutes. Despite this Bognor managed to grab a penalty chance and Sweeney nudged over after some great rucking from Jonny Lang and Venci Angelov – 10-7 to Bognor.
After half-time US introduced a few new faces and they instantly made an impact. After some strong defensive efforts from Joshua Riggall and Joshua Burgess in the centres, the US attack patiently probed and managed to find a gap in the home team’s defence to make it 14-10.
Adam Knight was brought on for Jonny Lang but was almost instantly yellow0carded after a defensive lineout. The school teacher looked shocked.
James Barlow, Darren Bidwell and George Castleton were as consistent as always and were loving the tight fringe play. Continuous phase play controlled by Sweeney and Toone meant Paddy Burnett and Pat Gibbs could link up out wide and create some magical rapid play.
Gibbs broke on the outside with the support of Burnett, Gibbs gave a ridiculous dummy and paced through and scored under the posts – 17-14.
Another two soft yellow cards followed and this meant Bognor had played 40 minutes with 14 men and couldn’t have grafted harder.
Burgess continued to carry brutally alongside Webb in the midfield and the team looked to be ticking well. To the dismay of the whole of Hampshire Avenue, it was US’s turn to score and they drove over from close range to make the it 21-17 with ten minutes left.
Young Sean Power and even younger Joe Greenslade were introduced and made immediate impacts.
Bognor fought back with extreme power and precision and dominated in the US 22. A penalty was won and Sweeney slotted with ease to make it 21-20.
It was squeaky bum time in Bognor but for the hosts, it was not enough and the referee blew time on what can only be described as a monstrous effort from both of the high flyers in the league.
Bognor travel to Chipstead RFC this week in the next chapter of the Junior Vase and hope to take another step on the route to Twickenham.
Bognor: Webb, Burns, Angelov, Barlow, Bidwell, Balchin, Lang, Castleton, Toone, Sweeney, Newcombe, Riggall, Burgess, Burnett, Gibbs, Power, Knight, Greenslade.