It is always memorable to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat – and Chichester won their opening National three London south east home game 26-25 versus Shelford with a bonus-point fourth try five minutes from the end.
The game was full of end-to-end rugby and credit goes to both teams for a nailbiting afternoon.
After two away losses it was important for the Blues to succeed and it was suitable revenge for the one-point late home defeat suffered against Shelford last season.
But the Blues lost a 21-12 lead after a second yellow card and must learn that if you play with 14 men you can expect to be punished.
Chi were without Phil Dickin, injured at Guernsey. Aaron Davies moved to lock, captain Jack Bentall to No8 and Ben Polhill came in at open-side flanker. Evan Woodworth was hooker, Robin Guest full-back and Taff Davies returned at fly-half.
New recruit Jack Evans made his debut from the bench in the second half.
The pitch was in excellent condition as the visitors started briskly and a penalty from 35m struck the Chi post.
Chris Johnson and Harry Seaman drove forward but two turnovers put Shelfs away on the left wing. Cover was stretched and the defence outwitted for full-back Simon Hrbek to take a last pass and skate behind the posts for the first try. He converted it.
The Chi defence was tested before they picked up the pace with Aaron Davies leading. A scrum was won against the head, Bentall drove from 10m and passed to Martin O’Callaghan. He slipped the ball to neatly to prop Tom Belcher to score his third try in three games. Taff Davies converted.
Henry Anscombe, Seaman and Taff Davies were prominent in a counter-attack from their 22, but a long return kick to the Chi try line was rescued at the cost of a yellow card for Anscombe for an unclear offence.
Pressure from Shelfs ended with Bentall coming from the rear of the scrum to offload to Taff Davies. The impressive Army man stepped expertly and sprinted 40m with a good offload to inside-centre Rhys Thompson. He snaked 30m, riding tackles and giving a final pass to Jack Maslen to touch down at the posts. A great try, converted by Taff Davies.
Blues’ tackles and handling were secure. Taff Davies saw a penalty from just over halfway strike the crossbar.
Anscombe returned but Shelfs moved quickly and big No8 McGyver got over near the right corner. Conversion missed.
Woodworth went off with an arm injury and it was 14-12 at the break.
Jack Arden-Brown was replacement hooker and Chi looked determined as they kicked off. They spun the ball left, the drive was controlled and sustained for Aaron Davies to feed Anscombe for the third try. Taff Davies kicked a fine conversion.
Johnson had to be helped off following a nasty clash of heads and Ben Robson left with an bruised ankle. All replacements were on.
Polhill was using all his ground skills to win the ball but Chi were penalised at a scrum. A warning was issued and at the next scrum, the ref gave a penalty to Chi – but reversed it when the Chi tighthead retaliated against his opposite number. He was promptly sinbinned and Hrbek kicked the three points.
With Chi down to 14 again, both teams hammered away. Thompson made a superb break but Shelfs retrieved and a kick over the top gave them a strong position in the Chi 22.
They went through the phases and eventually found the space for centre Anderson to score their third and Hrbec slotted the conversion - 21-22. Blues had conceded ten points before being back to full-strength. Hrbek added a penalty to make it 25-21.
Chi had to go for broke and Anscombe kicked long into Vulture’s Corner. Lineouts and several drives were repelled by stout defence but the ball was finally sent across the backs who kept their nerve for the winning pass to Evans on the right wing. Normally a scrum-half, he stepped inside and placed the ball just inside the flag.
There was great rejoicing but the conversion was short and there were five minutes left.
After Anscombe had kicked one of the longest grubber kicks ever seen to keep the enemy at bay, they did break out and with a last run along the right wing but a joint tackle by Guest and Thompson sent the carrier hurtling into touch.
The whistle blew and Chi had done it despite injuries and some mistakes.
This week brings a big fixture at Dorking ,who have a strong squad. All support welcome at their lovely ground (3pm start).
CHICHESTER: Belcher, Woodworth, Dowding, O’Callaghan, A Davies, Johnson, Polhill, Bentall, Anscombe, T Davies, Robson, Thompson, Maslen, Seaman, Guest. Reps: Arden-Brown, Farmer, Evans.
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