Bognor’s pre-season friendlies contained an equal mix of frustration and promise - as evidenced by a 13-12 loss at Pulborough.
The frustration stems from an almost-constant flow of injuries – eight players were already missing before new signing James Costelloe suffered a gashed jaw and the lightning-quick Pat Gibbs was forced off with a fractured ankle. Add to that a succession of poor decision-making and basic handling errors.
The promise is illustrated by the number of opportunities created and the way the new players have settled into the team. It could be a few weeks yet before Bognor are at full strength and hitting top gear but when they are, someone is likely to suffer.
They started strongly at Pulborough with prop Armandus Morgan making inroads into the home defence. The hosts won a penalty, enabling them to clear their line – establishing the pattern for the whole match, with Bognor attacking deep into opposition territory and Pulborough hanging on then counter-attacking.
Dave Sweeney, at fly-half in place of the injured Rob Parry, varied his kicking well and sent out accurate passes to his three-quarter line. Two overlaps were created in the outside channels within the first ten minutes but, as in previous weeks, Bognor were unable to finish off the moves.
The home team sounded a warning when they capitalised on a Bognor error and won a penalty in front of the posts. They could scarcely believe their luck to be 3-0 up with their first attack.
Bognor hit back with two powerful drives from the forwards. Lee Thompson was held up over the line and his team won a penalty from the resulting scrum.
Pulborough were penalised again and the visitors’ front row, now well on top, were delighted with the decision to re-scrummage.
Nigel Mitchell fed Rob Legge on the blind-side and the scrum-half cruised over for the first try.
Bognor were in almost complete control of everything except the scoreboard but, five minutes before half-time, they were rocked by a breakaway try, albeit with the help of a post.
Turning around five points down, Bognor began again to dominate territory and possession and were rewarded when Dan Brock took a switch from Sweeney to fly over under the posts. But instead of building on their lead, the visitors became disjointed and lacking in ideas and errors crept into their game.
To make matters worse Gibbs, who had shown flashes of class, went off with what was later diagnosed as a hairline fracture of the ankle. Hopefully it will not be too long before he is back.
Costelloe, the Dublin-born flanker, was having his most productive afternoon to date until he departed to receive five stitches during his inaugural meeting with club doctor Tim Dowle.
Veteran hooker Paul Mitchell was still finding his jumpers with his usual unerring accuracy while elder brother Nigel settled seamlessly into the No8 position and scarcely put a foot wrong.
Sweeney just failed to snatch the victory his side deserved when his 40m penalty dropped under the bar.
Bognor entertain Eastleigh at home this Saturday (3pm) in their first league game of the season, knowing they must improve their accuracy.
BOGNOR: Gibbs, Riggall, Burgess, Brock, Exall, Sweeney, Legge, Morgan, P Mitchell, Ubsdell, Harding, Masters, Thompson, N Mitchell, Costelloe. Reps: Lang, Castleton.