Bognor returned pointless from their Hampshire premier trip to Sandown and Shanklin and slipped down to fourth in the table, their hosts bouncing back strongly from a heavy defeat at runaway leaders Basingstoke to beat them 36-19.
As Bognor’s list of injured and unavailable front-row players reached double figures the depleted squad assumed things could not get any worse.
However, star prop Chris Webb was forced to pull out after breaking his hand during training on Tuesday and he was followed by Josh Riggall and Will Cullen, both of whom were forced to withdraw on Thursday with serious muscle injuries.
Sandown was always going to be a tough place to visit so the defeat came as no surprise. But the players who stepped up did themselves and their club proud as they battled right up to the final whistle.
Bognor began really strongly and, after thwarting a multi-phase attack by the home side, they managed to turn the ball over, allowing Sam Newcombe to tear away for the opening try. Dave Sweeney converted to give the visitors the ideal start.
Sandown hit back with a simple penalty after a needless infringement and they followed this with a huge drive towards the Bognor line. When the maul collapsed the referee deemed it was deliberate and immediately awarded a penalty try and a yellow card to prop Matt Cox.
While Cox was still off the field, another huge drive by the home pack brought them their second try under the posts and, at 3-17 down, Bognor were staring down the end of a barrel.
Cox returned to the fray but Bognor’s pack continued to be driven back at every scrum and the backs were receiving no front-foot ball whatsoever.
The next scorecame totally out of the blue and gave Bognor hope going into half-time. After being shunted backwards on their own put-in, Bognor’s skipper Josh Burgess picked up on his own ten-metre line and set off on a superb, rampaging run deep into the Sandown half.
Incredibly, the big No8 kept going, swatting would-be tacklers away, eventually crashing over for the try of the season.
Sandown began the second half by kicking another simple penalty in front of the posts and followed it up with a well-constructed try after three phases from lineout possession.
Bognor had to re-shuffle further after another couple of injuries.
Far from folding, however, the gutsy visitors hit back with a try of their own. Flanker Paul Briant carried strongly deep into the home defence and Dan Robinson finished well to touch down. Unfortunately the young full-back took a heavy knock shortly afterwards and was forced to leave the field with suspected concussion.
Sandown replied with a bonus-point try and Shane Stevens almost managed to gain the bonus point that Bognor’s efforts deserved when the winger was adjudged to have put his foot out while touching down. The visitors never gave up and their Stirling efforts were epitomised by the total commitment shown by man-of-the-match Marc Voigt.
Coach Scott Barlow, while delighted with the positive attitude shown by his weakened side, will hope that several of his senior players will regain their fitness over the next few weeks and that Bognor can have a strong run-in to Christmas.
Bognor: Robinson, Burnett, Newcombe, Sweeney, Stevens, Newton-Young, Hornibrook, Stubbs, Voigt, Cox, Orchard, Bidwell, Knight, Burgess((Capt), Briant. Reps: Teague, Masters, Bailey.