A great roar erupted from the Chichester faithful as Ed Bowden scored the winning try in the last seconds to secure an 18-16 win over Rob Lawrence’s Westcombe Park.
The Blues had fought back from a ten-point deficit and three tries in the second half brought celebration to round off a challenging season in which they finished ninth and well clear of the bottom three. They scored 59 points and won 11 of their 26 games.
Chichester made six changes to the side that gave Sevenoaks a scare last time out. Phil Veltom, Ed Bowden and Chris Johnson came into the pack, with Harry Seaman and Tom Blewitt in the backs and Josh Cameron on the bench.
Blues went into the final game knowing a bonus-point win would guarantee ninth spot. Chichester welcomed back ex-head coach Lawrence, who had spent many seasons at Oaklands Park and is now Park’s director of rugby.
Chichester rugby action and the rest of the local sport pictures
The spring sunshine attracted a large crowd, with a significant contingent from Kent, all hoping for an entertaining afternoon of running rugby.
From kick-off Chichester were immediately under pressure, conceding a penalty in kicking range, so it was 3-0 with less than two minutes played.
Tom Blewitt picked up an early knock and was replaced by Shaun Baker. The first half was not the spectacle supporters from both sides had hoped for.
Neither team managed to dominate and play was regularly interrupted by handling errors, knock-ons and forward passes. Combe did manage to breach the Blues’ defence just before the half-hour and Chichester responded with a penalty five minutes later from the boot of Henry Anscombe to trail 8-3 at half-time.
Blues can't fell Mighty Oaks
Westcombe Park started the second half with more purpose and scored a second try after ten minutes., conversion missed.
The visitors’ confidence began to grow and the Blues’ defence was working hard to prevent further tries. With 12 minutes left it seemed as though Blues’ season would fizzle out in a scrappy defeat. However, the referee produced a yellow card and Combe found themselves a man short.
This seemed to galvanise the Chichester team and from the penalty Phil Veltom shrugged off the attention of three Combe players to touch down in Vultures’ Corner - 13-8.
Five minutes later a Rhys Thompson run created space for the pass to Sam Renwick who outstripped the Combe defence to score. A missed conversion meant it was 13-13 - and the Chichester supporters were in full voice.
With only three minutes left Chichester infringed within kicking range and Combe regained the lead.
With 80 minutes on the clock the ball was passed wide to Bowden just inside the 22m line. A sidestep beat the first defender and the full-back was brushed aside as Bowden sprinted for the line to touch down in Vultures’ Corner - a great end to the season for the Chichester faithful.
Supporters’ man of the match was Chris Johnson.
Chichester: Magda, Gingell, Woods, Boulton, Veltom, Bowden, Wallace, Johnson, Seaman, Anscombe, Jenkinson, Thompson, Renwick, McLagan, Blewitt, Cameron, Makasi, Baker.