Bognor’s impressive run of eight successive wins came to an end on the Isle of Wight when they lost by the narrowest of margins - 18-17- to a spirited Sandown and Shanklin side.
Bognor’s third visit to the Isle of Wight in two months always had the potential to be a banana skin and so it proved, the Islanders tackling their hearts out to earn themselves a memorable victory.
Meanwhile, top-of-the-table US Portsmouth extended their lead over Bognor to six points by virtue of an easy win against hapless Ventnor. This Saturday’s battle between the league’s top two teams at Hampshire Avenue is promising to be the match of the season with Bognor anxious to avenge their narrow defeat at Burnaby Road at the end of September.
Bognor began really strongly and put together several promising phases within minutes of kick-off. Unfortunately, two certain tries were missed, the first when the final pass of a clear overlap was adjudged to be forward; the second after the ball was knocked on yards from the opposition line.
Bognor were so on top that the errors did not seem at the time to be too crucial but simple mistakes sometimes have a habit of coming back to bite, and so it proved. After 15 minutes Sandown managed their first visit to Bognor’s 22 and, unlike the visitors, they accepted their opportunity when it arose, kicking a simple penalty to take an unexpected lead.
Five minutes later Bognor finally finished off another handling move when youngster Paddy Burnett crashed over in the corner. Their front row of Webb, Burns and Angelou ensured quality set-piece possession and the lineouts, too, were working well, but it was at the breakdown that the home pack rolled their sleeves up and continually disrupted Bognor’s phase ball.
Eight minutes before half-time, Sandown enjoyed their second visit to Bognor’s 22 and, again they were rewarded, the forwards driving over the line for a try to give them a half-time lead of 12-8.
At the start of the second half Bognor were guilty of trying too hard to force the pace and their frustration mounted when another forward pass was spotted by the eagle-eyed referee, a superb officiator who was the best Bognor had seen all season.
Three strong carries by Chris Webb failed to bring the customary rewards and the islanders responded by breaking out of defence, only a fantastic tackle by flying hooker Ryan Power preventing a certain try.
Webb again threw his bulk into the fray and, this time, quick ball allowed Sam Newcombe on to the front foot, Pat Gains accepting the pass and coasting in for Bognor’s second try. Dave Sweeney converted to give his side a deserved four-point lead.
Ten minutes from the end Sandown hit back and, with the help of some very weak tackling, they scored their third try to re-take the lead by three points.
Two minutes later Bognor received a lifeline when the referee awarded them a penalty 30 metres out and 15 metres from the touchline. The visitors chose to go for the posts rather than the driving lineout but the wind defeated Sweeney’s attempt and the ball drifted wide.
Sandown kicked a penalty of their own to extend the lead to six points but, just when it seemed as if all was lost, Gains scored his second try to narrow the gap to a single point. The swirling wind again made life difficult for Sweeney and the centre was dismayed to see what would have been a winning kick narrowly miss the uprights.
The match ended as it began, Bognor hammering away at the home try line, with man-of-the-match Lee Balchin still leading from the front. They have no excuses, however, as their decision-making and finishing were just not good enough on the day.
And so, the scene is set for next Saturday – US Portsmouth at home (2pm). All support is welcome.
Bognor: Gains, Newcombe, Burgess, Sweeney, Burnett, Riggall, Toone, Webb, Burns, Angelou, Bidwell, Barlow, Lang, Balchin, Knight. Reps: R Power, S Power.