Blues can’t force win - but they can stay top

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Chichester took three points from a tough 23-23 draw at Cobham to remain top of London one south.

The Blues knew this would be a tricky assignment, made harder by losing outstanding vice-captain Billy Toone to injury and influential skipper Scott Barlow to work. Ben Polhill stepped up to lead the Blues out on a blustery but firm Surrey pitch.

Cobham started by pinning the Blues deep in their 22 and only a couple of good clearing kicks from full-back Richard Adams relieved the pressure.

Chichester’s lineout faltered with ex-Harlequin Billy Davidson using all his experience to disrupt the blue throw.

For 15 minutes the Reds forwards looked to drive close to the fringes, but the back row of Polhill, Goldie and Kasujja tackled strongly.

The Blues were strong at scrum time and at midway in the half, Wagstaff linked with Pearham, who, from deep inside his half, set off on a mesmeric run, ghosting past two would-be tacklers and scorching over out wide for a stunning opening score.

Cobham capitalised on a fumble to squeeze the blues deep in their half. The Reds launched another drive which, although repelled, ended in a darting surge down the blindside for the home team’s opening score which was converted.

The Blues were starting to win second-phase ball but handling errors were not helping.

As Cobham kicked deep Adams swept up from behind his own line and 15 seconds later the full-back had beaten a host of Reds defenders and a beautiful pass set Satala away. From 45 yards, the big Fijian powered to the line for a second stunning try. Pearham again missed the extras but it was 10-7.

After a scrum was awarded to the Reds, play opened up for the home No10 to squeeze over in the corner despite a valiant tackle from Pearham. A clash of heads left both players down with the Cobham man forced off.

Polhill rallied the team and Adams and Robson went on searing runs. Robson was released into space by Lawrence but the big winger slowed and looked for support instead of going for the line. But Pearham slotted a penalty to create a 13-12 lead.

A ruck saw Wagstaff break and pass to pacy second row Nick Blount, who stretched his 6ft 7in frame to score out wide. At half-time the Blues led 18-12.

From the first second-half scrum, the Blues struck against the head for Kasujja to go on a surging run but a mistimed pass saw the chance lost.

The home No15 made excellent ground and a defensive error gave the left winger a simple touchdown.

Deed and Pearham put excellent kicks in to gain field position but Cobham were lifted by some uncharacteristic errors out wide by the Blues.

Cobham launched a clever box kick and a penalty for holding on seemed harsh but Cobham slotted three points.

The Chichester pack were starting to dominate and big loosehead Ash Wheeler smashed over for the important fourth try to give the Blues a 23-20 lead.

The Blues defended resolutely and forced a vital turnover to make good yards and earn a relieving penalty.

Out to almost halfway with the clock ticking down, Chichester’s normally-reliable lineout went astray with the ball ricocheting into the home No7’s hands. Three passes later an easy penalty was conceded and the scores were level.

The Blues were devastated having dug so deep, but with less than a minute left Wagstaff took the game deep into the Cobham half and the Blues forced a last-play penalty.

Pearham, excellent all afternoon in attack and defence despite missing conversions, stepped up to take the kickable chance. The Blues groaned as the ball slipped agonisingly past the upright. Men of the match were Pearham and Adams.

Head coach Richard Isaac said: “We showed some excellent attacking play but were not as solid up front as usual.”

Paul Colley, director of rugby, said: “We certainly got the tough game we expected. We missed a couple of very good players and struggled for a while to adapt. We could have nicked it.”

This week the Blues host Portsmouth.

CHICHESTER: Wheeler, Lawrence, Shopland, Veltom, Blount, Goldie, Polhill, Kasujja, Robson, Satala, Deed, Golds, Adams, Taggart, Giddings, Knowles.