Matches between old rivals Chichester and Wimbledon have nearly always been close and hard fought. This one was typically-exciting.
Chi nearly produced the shock of the season against the second-placed club in National three London south east who had scored 62 points in their previous game.
Wimbledon were under great pressure in the last 15 minutes when Blues battled to get a winning try and conversion.
In the end, Dons just deserved the victory and Chi were well worth their losing bonus point after winning the second half 10-7.
Dons are powerful but they gave away too many penalties and their backs made mistakes when faced by stout defence. However they prevailed by three converted tries to a converted try and three penalties.
A highlight was the tee kicking of Chi’s Taff Davies with four from four, and long touch kicks from Henry Anscombe and Dons’ fly half Croke. Despite this encouraging performance, Chi are now 13 points adrift of their aim of rising above the bottom three places. There are 15 games left and every one will be important. They must win their next three games, two of them at home.
Danny Gray was at fly-half, Taff Davies at inside centre, Jak Evans on the right wing and soldier Ben Naiyaga a late replacement for Phil Dickin at flanker.
Both teams were keen to attack and get on the scoreboard. Dons backs knocked on twice in full flow and Jack Bentall tackled after a half break.
Dons scrum was penalised for the first of several times. From the penalty and lineout Naiyaga was on the shoulder for a pass which put him through a gap but he knocked on.
Dons player Croke displayed his first-class vision and boot to the corners. A drive lineout was followed by seven pick-and-go phases against brave Chi tackles until No8 Thomas finally got the try. Croke slotted his first conversion.
Rhys Thompson tackled to stop another fast raid along the right wing before Chi won a scrum penalty and mauled strongly. Two attacks across the backs were lively from the quick and accurate passes by Gray before full-back Richard Adams was stopped.
There seemed to be a forward pass at inside centre which started the Dons attack that led to their second try. The ball was shipped right and across left for full-back Bennett to to get across at the corner and go around for an easy conversion, making it 14-0.
Davies replied with a superb 40m penalty as Dons infringed again. They ran once more but were knocked back and Anscombe cleared with a raking penalty to touch.
The Blues scrum was doing well against a very big front five and were concentrating on thwarting the Dons’ catch and drive lineouts. Davies kicked a penalty when Dons obstructed trying to drive.
Chi had to cover back fast to frustrate counter-attacks which included some dangerous support running. It was 14-6 at the break and Chi had probably surprised Dons with improved form and team spirit.
The second half started at a cracking pace with attacks at both ends. The Blues lineout was competing and a Nick Blount catch started two promising moves, with Evans only just held on the right and an Anscombe kick giving good position but spoiled by a ruck offence.
A huge penalty to the left corner produced the third try, the drive lineout held but the pick and go pressure persistent and the Dons super heavyweight Viane pressed down from two metres out. The conversion meat it was 21-6.
With the backing of a large crowd, Chi showed character and determination. They refused to accept defeat and tore into their opponents.
A clearance was blocked by Blount and Aaron Davies and Tom Belcher led a cavalry charge to within the enemy 22. They drove and with good hands in the backs, the forwards went again and the reliable Belcher crashed through the last tackle. A conversion brought the score to 21-13.
Davies added a penalty when the Dons hooker received a yellow card.
Mark Giddings, Sean Shepherd and Bentall were in the vanguard as the pressure built. Touch kicks by Anscombe and Davies added to it and Dons were worried but tackling effectively.
With time running out some slick passing saw Belcher just five metres from glory when he was brought down by a try-saving tackle. Chi’s loose head prop Vadei barged through but the ball was spilt in another tackle.
Dons held out and Croke cleared. They won their last scrum on half way and were relieved to hear the final whistle end a fine contest.
This week Chi go to Guildford, who are in good form. All support very welcome in their time of need. It is less than an hour by road and kick-off is 2pm.
Chichester: Vadei, Giddings, Belcher, Grace, Blount, Naiyaga, Bentall, A Davies, Anscombe, Gray, Blewitt, O Davies, Thompson, Evans, Adams. Reps: Shepherd, Farmer, Seaman.
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