Play-off tussle is a step too far for Bognor

Billy Toone with the ball in Bognor's play-off loss to Old Georgians / Picture by Kate Shemilt
Billy Toone with the ball in Bognor's play-off loss to Old Georgians / Picture by Kate Shemilt

A play-off match for promotion to London 3SW proved a step too far for Bognor’s depleted squad and, after a competitive first half, Old Georgians piled on the points in the last quarter to earn a convincing 52-7 victory.

After a successful season Bognor approached the contest with some confidence, despite the unavailability of their two most seasoned campaigners, George Castleton and skipper Lee Balchin.

Balchin in particular, having led the team with distinction for six years, was devastated to miss the climax to the season.

Georgians, coached by ex-England and Saracens centre Ben Johnston, had enjoyed three consecutive promotions and were clearly a team who intended to go places. They were fit, well-drilled and proved to be by far the best team Bognor have played all season.

Referee Billy Huntley from Kent stunned both sides when he yellow-carded Bognor’s player-coach Billy Toone just minutes into the game for a technical offence at the tackle area. He produced another surprise shortly afterwards when he awarded Georgians a penalty try for a scrum infringement, again with little warning beforehand.

The visitors made the most of Toone’s absence by scoring a second try for a 14-0 lead. Toone returned to the fray and, determined to make amends for his absence, smashed his way over the line to reduce the gap.

By half-time Bognor had started to show glimpses of the attacking rugby they’d been playing all season but, soon after the restart, the visitors’ superior fitness began to tell.

A second yellow card for Toone meant that Bognor were down to 14 men and the gaps immediately started to show. Injuries to Vencislav Angelou, Darren Bidwell and Chris Barlow made matters worse and the last straw was a red card for Josh Riggall.

Bognor’s 13 men continued to battle away but Georgians ran in several late tries and finished deserving winners.

Next season Bognor will play in the new Hampshire Premiership where Toone will be assisted by ex-Worthing captain Scott Barlow. The duo have already targeted improved fitness levels and the recruitment of some experienced forwards during pre-season preparations.