Chichester were very unlucky to lose 13-12 to Shelford in their latest National three London south east game – a penalty with just a few minutes left sealing their fate.
They had dominated all the open play in the second half and their handling and tackling had been excellent.
It was also good to see them play as a well-motivated team, helping each other against opponents who are fifth in the league.
They deserved to win but a wrong option and one other mistake let them down. They scored two fine tries to one but the visitors knocked over two penalties.
Two young players, Shaun Shepherd at hooker and Rhys Thompson at inside centre, made impressive debuts and double try scorer Jack Maslen was the best attacker on the pitch.
Although the Blues remain in 11th place and face two more challenging games before Christmas, their performance gave grounds for some optimism.
Phil Dickin had joined the long-term injury list and was replaced by Aaron Davies. Mark Giddings and Ken Dowding were also injured. Kieran Richter was at loose head, Toby Golds at full-back and Tom Jackson made his first appearance of the season on the left wing.
A strong cross-field wind was blowing as Shelford kicked off. Chi caught and drove, a lineout catch by Davies and a useful run by Dean Bonds coming before he was tackled into touch.
Alex Grace took the next lineout catch, Harry Seaman fed Richard Adams, it went on to Thompson and Maslen stepped and handed off before diving over eight metres in from the left corner. Conversion wide.
It was a promising start but the visitors were soon showing their strength, shoving Chi back in the scrums and peeling around the blindside.
Chi’s lineout started to misfire because of longer throws than required in the very difficult wind and positioning of jumpers. Shelford tried mauling but Chi managed to stop it and then showed one of their own with Chris Johnson at the rear.
Shelford scrummed on the 22, Chi came around as the ball emerged and were ruled offside. Fly-half Simmons kicked the three points from a fairly central position to make it 5-3.
Bonds made a big tackle followed by kicking exchanges and an excursion by Maslen before he was forced out. Shelford pressed for five minutes and the Chi tackling was on the button, including one each by Shepherd and Thompson.
Maslen raided again followed by a Bonds touch run and kick ahead. Shelford continued to cause severe problems in the scrum,winning penalties which lost Chi hard-earned territory. The referee did not seem to check whether the Shelford tight-head was regularly boring in and across.
Chi attacked in force with Shepherd and Martin O’Callaghan leading a charge but ending with a knock-on.They defended against a determined maul 15 metres out and won back possession. But they lost their scrum put-in, the Shelford pack moved right and scrum-half Baker took a pass and shot through a gap to score near the posts. Converted by Simmons.
At half-time it was 10-5 to the visitors.
Chi pressed and Jackson had a good run before taking a hard knock. Shelford countered briefly but Chi’s tackles drove them back.
Nick Shopland, off the bench, had already steadied the front row and the backs had a platform from their own ball. Chi now exerted constant pressure with their opponents driven on to the back foot.
Johnson was storming forward with support. They attacked with Adams and Maslen making ground, the ball whistled across the backs and Bonds made a half break.
Tom Lowe had done another good job at open-side flanker and gave way to Ben Polhill, who was immediately in the fray.
Chi drives brought the expected penalty to Vulture’s Corner and they did all they could to drive over near the flag, but Shelford defended resolutely.
Finally Seaman sent the ball out, Thompson gave a beautifully-timed pass to Maslen who had the extra second to evade his marker and crash down just right of the posts. A great try, converted by Adams, gave a 12-10 lead.
Another backs move saw Bonds kick to the try line and Maslen was beaten narrowly to the touchdown by the full-back. Jackson had to retire and Alex Marsh came on.
The Shelford hooker was sin-binned as Chi probed for a chance on the right. A drive maul and more handling with no pass dropped until Marsh received a big hit.
They tried a second long kick and chase but Shelford covered. A brilliant move out to the right wing with full-back Toby Golds joining the line fell at the last fence through a forward pass.
Shopland grabbed the ball from the ground and Chi’s dominance continued but they badly needed more points for safety against steely defence.
Shelford scented a chance and had a concerted attack for the first time in the half. They worked some phases, Bonds putting in a solid tackle, but instead of trusting their tackles to stop a score, Chi went offside and Simmons landed the penalty from 20 metres.
Golds ran once more and a drive by the forwards won a penalty just outside the 22. The wind was still blowing but it was definitely kickable to put them two points ahead.
Instead they chose to go for the corner and get a third try. The kick was either sliced or the wind caught it and it went the wrong side of the corner flag. Heartbreak – but Chi had one last attempt with Johnson surging on but the backs were abruptly stopped by a crunch tackle in the centre.
This match was certainly one that got away and Lady Luck deserted the boys in blue for those from Cambridgeshire.
This week Chi travel to Hertford, who inflicted a first defeat on league leaders Irish Wildgeese by 12-10.All support is welcome as Chi try again to get back to winning.
CHICHESTER: Richter, Shepherd, Veltom, Grace, O’Callaghan, Davies, Lowe, Johnson, Seaman, Adams, Jackson, Thompson, Maslen, Bonds, Adams, Shopland, Polhill, Marsh.
* The USA Eagles Sevens squad playing in the Dubai Sevens last Saturday are coached by Mike Friday, who was a Chichester minis player as a youngster. His father Chris was captain of Chichester first team.
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