CHICHESTER made a marvellous comeback in the second half of a highly-entertaining home game against Bury St Edmunds to win 23-20 in the last five minutes.
It was largely down to a great performance by their forwards, who showed determination and power to score twice and complete a hat-trick of classic English tries in the match.
BSE arrived in second place in National three London south east and despite their long journey were formidable opponents who led 17-8 at half-time. Their backs had scored three tries and they must have felt confident of victory, but they were driven back relentlessly by the blue tide and a final penalty sealed the points for the home team.
So Chi won at home after a run of three narrow losses and a draw to add to success in away games. All the teams in this league are well-matched and and games are often won by very small margins.
The Blues welcomed Ken Dowding for his home debut at loose-head prop and former Hove back Alex Marsh for his first appearance, in the absence of Leon Driscoll.
The ever-popular tight-head prop Phil Veltom returned to the bench after a long absence through serious injury. The pitch was in good condition for running rugby after overnight frost had disappeared in favour of sunshine.
Both teams soon showed they had attacking backs with good hands. Chi missed an early penalty but continued to run hard without finding a key to the door.
BSE tackled well and took the lead when their fly-half delivered a long pass to outside centre Mann, who strode through fragile tackles to score near the posts. The conversion was missed badly.
Jack Bentall enjoyed an aggressive run and after a lineout catch, Ben Polhill, Aaron Davies and Chris Johnson combined to get close to the try line. The backs joined in and BSE were penalised for crossing in defence. Danny Gray duly slotted to make it 5-3.
The pack drove competently and full-back Richard Adams showed a huge sidestep before losing the ball. A 30-metre driving maul was pulled down illegally and a BSE flanker sin-binned.
The penalty went into Vultures’ Corner, there was a controlled driving maul from the lineout and Johnson went over for the touchdown. The conversion from wide out was missed.
The visitors hit back promptly with quick ball from a lineout to Mann, running on a good line past inadequate defence and scoring their second try, converted by Sage.
Chi were caught out again when a knock-on from a high pass gave away possession and their centres broke through to pass out to left winger Solomon for another try, halfway between the posts and corner. The conversion was missed.
Johnson charged and made good ground for Chi as did outside centre Sam Renwick but both were met by big tackles. At half-time the Blues trailed 17-8 and it looked grim.
However Veltom had come on to join the lads at the coalface and whatever was said at the break about the game plan was to work perfectly.
Johnson and Veltom carried strongly and a scrum was won against the head which was a sign of new intent. The pack pressed to the line and Bentall was under the bodies to press down. Gray converted – 17-15 and game on.
BSE advanced from the drop-out and won a penalty at the scrum. The kick hit the right post and fell into Chi hands to clear. Bentall, Renwick and Adams linked usefully but BSE countered with a run by inside centre White, followed by a penalty at a scrum, kicked by Henley-Hunter to extend Bury’s lead to 20-15.
Tom Jackson cut inside nicely from the left wing but received a bone-shaking tackle. Now it was time for the forwards to take over completely as they had won ascendancy in the tight.
They pinned BSE in their 22 and there was ten minutes of non-stop battering of their line. Wave after wave of big Blues men smashed at dogged defence with the crowd roaring them on. Scrums and lineouts were won before they were forced out at the right corner. Two scrums took them over the line but they were held up.
The third brought the reward as they drove with huge effort and hooker Joe Shopland dived across and down. A missed conversion meant the score was locked at 20-20.
The next score was likely to be the last. BSE made a final bid for glory but Chi’s defence had been tightened and tackles were made. Ben Polhill made a superb intervention to snaffle the ball when it emerged from a BSE ruck. Another lineout was won and a crossfield attack sent Marsh along the touchline but he was forced out.
Nick Blount seized the ball in the centre of the pitch on the 22 and broke a tackle. BSE made a fatal error when a player deliberately knocked the ball from scrum-half Ed Durkin’s grasp in front of the posts. Gray stepped up to take an easy penalty with all eyes on him. No problem – 23-20 to Chi.
BSE had one last sortie to Chi’s half but Chi won another lineout and then made sure of their own scrum ball, Durkin kicking the ball into touch and the final whistle blown to spark great celebrations.
The visiting supporters were sporting and complimentary. They were very friendly and the home fans enjoyed their company.
This week Chi have a long trip to Westcliff, near Southend. All support welcome for a 2.15pm kick-off – there’s room on the team coach.
CHICHESTER: Dowding, Shopland, Belcher, Blount, Davies, Johnson, B Polhill, Bentall, Durkin, Gray, Jackson, T Polhill, Renwick, Marsh, Adams, Veltom, Lindsay, Lowe.