Chichester welcomed traditionally-strong Sutton & Epsom to Oaklands Park knowing that although S&E had struggled so far this term they were capable of testing the Blues and had promised as much on their website. But the Blues were too strong and ran out 38-7 winners.
The Blues’ preparation was further hampered by yet more injuries – six were all on the casualty list and another six were also unavailable. But the Blues took the opportunity to offer débuts to Chris Wagstaff, Jack Taggart and Ollie Wilson with Mike Uta coming on to the bench.
Chichester won comfortably enough by six tries and four conversions to one converted try. A bright first half brought 26 points without reply but the Blues went off the boil after the break.
This was a little disappointing but Chichester can feel pleased with their sixth consecutive win and their three-point lead at the top of the league. They have scored 259 points with 37 tries and are building an enviable home record.
After five minutes a high kick by right winger Toby Golds defeated the receiver and Lewis Joiner followed to snatch and run in from the 22. Extras were added by Stuart Pearham.
Phil Dickin made a half break from the back row which gave a scrum outside the Sutton 22. Quick passing across the backs found full back Billy Toone on the charge, offloading to Pearham and on to Golds, who cantered across at the right corner.
Two minutes later, hooker Rob Lawrence came away with the ball in typical style, sold his dummy and passed crisply to Golds, who cut inside and scorched a diagonal route to the posts, finishing with his modest dive. The conversion by Pearham meant it was 19-0 after 15 minutes.
Sutton moved into the Chichester half and there was sloppy defence by the home side which led to a penalty which drifted wide.
The Blues were dominating scrums, Scott Barlow and Darren Lockyer securing good lineout ball from the Lawrence throws, and Phil Veltom carrying consistently over the gain line.
Nick Shopland delivered a thumping tackle despite blurred vision from an accidental finger in the eye.
Chichester pressure from penalties kicked to the corner was relieved by a monster clearance kick from Sutton’s hard-working scrum half Murray. Man of the match Ben Polhill was on hand to end a moment of danger before Joiner made a promising half break. Sadly he fell awkwardly in the tackle and was carted off to hospital with an ankle injury.
Just before the break Chichester launched an all-out assault and Sutton held on desperately. The drives went in and although held up on the line, a final surge saw Barlow crash over for the fourth try and bonus point.
Chichester continued pressing and Toone ran hard towards the try line but was knocked flat by a full-on collision. From a scrum ten metres out, Polhill, now at No8, picked up and brushed aside the last defence. Pearham added the extras.
Now Sutton revived and began to win territory. Polhill had to make another excellent tackle to upend their tall left winger. Walker followed his example to stop a thrust in the centre.
Toone showed his dance steps once more and a drive by Barlow was just held off but illegally. A Sutton flanker was given a yellow card for his error. The penalty went to Vulture’s Corner and ended with Lawrence scoring with relative ease.
Still in Sutton’s 22, Barlow tried an optimistic high pass which was seized by Sutton’s speedster Whitaker, who hared 70 metres to the Chichester posts – despite a good chase by Wilson hurtling across from his wing to try to tap his heels. The consolation try was converted by Murray.
Sutton had one more go but an experienced forward was yellow carded for trying to stamp his authority on a ruck.
Chichester director of rugby Paul Colley said: “We looked a very good team at times but were inconsistent and made too many handling errors.”
The Blues have a huge challenge this week at Basingstoke, who are second and have also won all their games. The Blues hope for a good following.
CHICHESTER: Shopland, Lawrence, Veltom, Barlow, Taggart, Lockyer, Polhill, Dickin, Wagstaff, Toone, Wilson, Joiner, Walker, Golds, Toone, Corrigan, O’Callaghan, Uta.