Blues overcome the odds to claim top-three spot

Camoeron Hopkins breaks the line as Chi beat Tottonians / Picture by Michael Clayden
Camoeron Hopkins breaks the line as Chi beat Tottonians / Picture by Michael Clayden
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Chichester overcame many obstacles to achieve an excellent double over their strong Hampshire opponents, beating Tottonians 24-17 to sit third in London one south for the mid-season break.

They dominated the first half and despite losing two of their outstanding players for periods in the second half, they held firm to win by three converted tries and a penalty to a converted try, penalty try and a penalty.

Chi had to dig deep to assemble a squad because of injuries and unavailability and came up with a mix of experience and youth. The odds were against them on paper but they played with great energy and skill to clinch four league points and were unlucky to miss out on a bonus point.

Totts had not been beaten in their previous five games and fought back after the break, collecting a losing bonus with a penalty in the last seconds of the game. Chi moved up to third as Havant lost at Brighton.

There were nearly 200 people at the mini and juniors lunch before the match and on the touchline it was good to see several legends from previous decades, three of them visiting from abroad. The Chichester rugby community is stronger than ever and the big crowd were in festive mood.

The pitch was soft and slippery on a bright afternoon. From kick-off the Blues were on top. For 20 minutes they hammered at the Totts defence on their 22.

Chichester had to dig deep to assemble a squad because of injuries and unavailability and came up with a mix of experience and youth.

Chris Johnson, Scott Barlow and Aaron Davies stormed forward and the backs feasted on quick ball with winger Cameron Hopkins showing his speed. Totts tackled well to keep them out but something had to give.

Barlow broke through and Chi besieged the try line forcing infringements and penalties.They opted for a five-metre scrum and Johnson picked up and dived over for the first try which had been hard-earned and deserved. Tom Hutchin converted.

Chi had started well in the lineouts but they lost one at Vultures’ Corner after declining a kickable penalty. Attacks continued and the ball was moved smoothly with thrusts by Johnson, Davies and centre Toby Golds.

A penalty was won which launched phases across the pitch. Stretching the visitors’ defence, Hopkins joined in a switch from right to left which gave the space for Jack Hamilton-Fox score a fine try, converted by Hutchin for 14-0.

Totts finally reached the Chi 22 and a penalty into the left corner gave lineout ball and swift transfer to powerful centre Baptiste to crash under the posts. Searle converted.

Chi were scrambling to clear as the whistle blew and it was 14-7 at the break – but the Blues had enjoyed nearly all the territory and possession.

The scrums had been evenly contested and Chi’s men at the coal face Will Prior, Joe Shopland and Tom Belcher continued the good work.

Totts picked up and a promising raid was spoiled by crossing. Tom Polhill was cheered as he ran on as a replacement and joined his elder brother Ben.

Chi probed again but Johnson was injured and helped off. Callum Lee came on for his debut and was soon showing his promise.

Chi swept forward and from a lineout drive Belcher twisted over a last tackle and plunged down for the third try, Hutchin converting splendidly from wide out.

Totts went up a gear and Barlow was surprisingly given a yellow card for his first offence, a marginal offside in the red zone.

A scrum penalty was taken by Totts and Chi were shoved back, dropping it and conceding a penalty try with conversion – 21-14.

Chi hit back with replacement lock Martin O’Callaghan carrying strongly as usual. They won a turnover and penalty, setting up drives to get the bonus try. Totts infringed twice to stop them and Hutchin stroked a penalty instead to make sure of a well-deserved victory.

It was a case of backs to the wall for the 14 men in the last minutes to prevent a try. In the last seconds Totts were awarded a penalty in front of the posts and Searle made sure they went home with a point.

Chi now rest for Christmas but on January 6 they head along the A27 to Havant. They will seek another double but expect a very hard game. All support needed and appreciated for a 2pm start.

Chichester: Prior, Shopland, Belcher, Barlow, Lindsay, Davies, B Polhill, Johnson, Heber, Adams, Hopkins, Golds, McCabe, Hamilton-Fox, Hutchin, T Polhill, O’Callaghan, Lee.

ROGER GOULD