Rugby: Blues buoyed by downing Dons

Ben Polhill - pictured against Old Colfieans - was a key man at Wimbledon Picture by Kate Shemilt
Ben Polhill - pictured against Old Colfieans - was a key man at Wimbledon Picture by Kate Shemilt

There was great delight and relief when Chichester clinched a 24-23 victory and a bonus point with a try in the last five minutes of a thrilling game away to high-flying Wimbledon.

They had made another stirring comeback, similar to the one at Sidcup, after being 17-5 down after 30 minutes and 20-12 down at half-time.

The Dons are well-drilled team and are fourth in the league - and were the better team for an hour, working the phases and keeping most of the possession.

Their fly half Hallett kicked five from five and Chi could have lost via penalties. But they showed total commitment after the break and their driving forwards set up the grandstand finish. It was their seventh double and kept them two points ahead of Basingstoke, who gained maximum points at Beckenham.

It was a cloudy afternoon in Surrey but the pitch was in reasonable condition despite earlier rain. Chi were without Andy Gray, Niall Goldie and Tom Crawford. Dane Gingell came in at hooker, Phil Dickin at lock and Chris Johnson at flanker.

Dons quickly showed their intention with a driving maul and the ball spun across with crisp short passes. Chi went offside and the home side slotted the three points.

Johnson had a touchline run but was forced out and full-back Tim Cook made a safe catch and mark from a Dons high kick. Prop Joe Woods had to retire with a knee injury and was replaced by Nick Shopland.

A Chi penalty failed to find touch and Dons mauled forward through the middle. Hallett delivered a perfect chip into a gap which was gathered by centre Moore. He beat a tackle too easily and scored near the posts. The conversion made it 10-0.

Chi advanced to Dons’ 22 and a promising backs move ended with Tom Jackson tackled out. They went closer and a lineout and well-controlled drive put Gingell over to touch down.

Charlie Laflin interrupted a Dons thrust on the left wing, Chi spun it again and Jackson made ground before being forced out.

He held on to the ball at the touchline and was penalised, Dons moving to the 22 and winning a scrum against the head.

Their forwards mauled again and phases earned the space for Fulljames to evade a last tackle and score under the posts. It was converted for a 17-5 lead.

Phil Veltom carried strongly to the 22. Sam Renwick hit the line at pace from deep and was nearly over before he was grounded. Richard Adams finally danced around some groping tackles to score near the right post. The conversion meantr it was 17-12.

Dons’ ball retention and pick and go were impressive and they were winning all their own lineout ball with throws towards the back. They pressed but Chi defended stoutly to prevent what could have been a decisive try.

They did infringe and a penalty was landed from almost 40m to make it 20-12 at the break, when the Blues received stern counselling and knew the next 40 minutes were make or break.

A rather harsh penalty against them for offside gave Dons possession and they kicked a penalty when a player went off his feet at a ruck in front of the posts.

Chi steadily increased their intensity. They made adjustments at the lineout and began to dominate in the air. The pack mauled strongly and three penalties were conceded by Dons as they tried to stop lineout drives to the line. A prop was sin binned but Chi supporters thought a penalty try was justified.

Finally Gingell crashed over again with assistance from No8 Moses Kasujja. Adams converted for 23-19.

This was the signal for Chi to put Dons under the cosh. The back row was on the front foot, inside centre Jack Bentall was getting passes to punch holes and Billy Toone jinked to ten metres out. Adams was forced out, Ben Polhill charged from a lineout and Cook was held in the tackle.

Nick Blount climbed to steal another lineout as Chi went for the jugular. The backs switched the ball both ways but with Dons defending desperately it all looked in vain until the giant Blount broke out from a drive.

As he was tackled a metre out he gave a brilliant offload reverse flick to Laflin who caught it head-high, twisted in the air and thumped the ball down near the left flag. Blount is now aka Sonny Bill Williams.

Chi held the fort as Dons made their last incursion and when their move broke down, Chi hacked downfield and the whistle blew for full-time. Chi fans headed breathlessly to the clubhouse.

After a rest this week, Chi play the semi-professionals from East Grinstead at home on March 23. There will be a very large crowd as the visitors - who still have a 100 per cent record - have already announced modestly they will be crowned champions after beating Chichester and asked all their supporters to make the trip.

All support is therefore welcome for Chichester, who will aim to give them a hard but sporting game. Kick-off is 3pm. Get to the bar early.

CHICHESTER: Woods, Gingell, Veltom, Blount, Dickin, Johnson, Polhill, Kasujja, Toone, Adams, Laflin, Bentall, Renwick, Jackson, Cook, Shopland, Giddings, Golds.

ROGER GOULD