Chichester rediscovered their winning form with a hard-earned 22-18 victory at Gravesend – the team they’d had two thrilling encounters with last season.
The Blues had a couple of key changes as Joe Woods came back in at loose-head ,Mark Giddings made his season debut at hooker, Henry Anscombe dropped in at full-back and after a long injury lay-off, Andy Gray was on the bench.
The Blues started the National three London and south east clash brightly with powerful surges from the forwards y gaining good field position. Aaron Davies made big dents in the Gs defence but the most pleasing early sign was at the scrum.
The blue pack put huge pressure on Gravesend with the front-row combo of Woods, Giddings and Belcher backed up by the power of Lindsay and Blount. From this solid platform the Blues pack launched raids but good scrambling defence by Gs kept them at bay and their wily forwards managed to slow down the ball with clever work at the break down.
The away side continued to turn the screw and Davies soared high to secure good lineout ball. Chi showed patience lacking in recent weeks and a series of drives saw Tom Belcher power over. The conversion was missed.
The Blues continued to press and eventually the home right winger came in miles offside to be yellow-carded. But the Blues seemed to switch off and Gravesend upped the levels.
The Gs back line looked increasingly dangerous quick ball and a series of poor tackles in the Blues backs saw the Gs centre burst clear and score wide out.
Still down to 14, Gs were creating space down the middle and the No13 was through – but somehow Tanner got back with a despairing tap tackle.
Ben Polhill rallied the troops and put his body on the line to try and turn the tide. Leon Driscoll showed signs of his good early-season form with a couple of excellent breaks.
Chi had played some excellent rugby in the first half but knew with elements in their favour and the amount of ball they had, a 5-5 score was not good enough.
Small errors and lightning breaks from Gs meant Chi were defending on their line. The blue pack produced a massive scrum shunting Gs back with the scrum round 90. It looked like another scrum but the ref let the play go on; the back row covered and felt sure they had stopped the big Fijian No8 short of the line but the ref awarded the try to Gs.
A penalty extended the lead before Chi’s Jack Bentall launched three or four huge runs, bouncing defenders and hauling the blues back into the match.
After a series of forward surges, Bentall carved through the startled forwards two big smashes later and Bentall had powered over from 30m out.
Gs immediately responded with a slick move – they moved the ball at pace getting outside the cover to score their third try.
The Blues turned to their bench with Gray initially at No2 and then to the back row and Turner on for Belcher, with Woods moving to tighthead. Harte replaced Tanner on the wing after he picked up a knock. All three subs were to play vital roles.
Chi surged forward and Sam Renwick’s angled run provided space for the deceptive Aaron Lowe to get on the outside of No13. Excellent pace saw him to the line and Anscombe hit a great conversion to leave Chichester with a one-point deficit.
In the last ten minutes, unbelievable tackles from Gs showed how much they wanted it and only real heart and determination from Chi kept the pressure on.
Anscombe looked for a drop goal but it pulled wide in the wind. A penalty attempt was turned down for a kick to the corner which was overthrown.
Would the Blues rue their boldness? No – the pack produced more great ball and Bentall like a one-man carrying machine punched huge holes.
A great run from Harte, linking with centre Lowe, saw the latter canter over. A missed conversion meant Chi led 22-18.
Four tries brought a bonus point – and the Blues defended for another few minutesto hold on for a victory to savour.
Stuart Anscome, the backs coach, said: “The whole team worked together but I was particularly pleased that after a slowish start are two centres really started to click.”
Club chairman Keith Martin said: “It’s always tough at Gravesend – I was very proud of our boys showing real heart.”
Director of rugby Paul Colley added: “We showed tremendous heart but also no lack of skill – the last two tries were top-drawer and testament to the brand of rugby Rob Lawrence is trying to get us to play.”
This week sees a break from the league before Chi take on Hertford at home on November 15 – another massive encounter.
CHICHESTER: Woods, Giddings, Belcher, Lindsay, Blount, Bentall, Polhill, Davies, Toone, Adams, Tanner, Renwick, Lowe, Driscoll, Anscombe, Turner, Gray, Harte.