A tight game against Cranleigh in the RFU Junior Vase was a great spectacle for the supporters that came to watch on a cold but sunny day at Bognor RFC.
Lee Balchin was back for his second game since injuring his hand and ready to lead his team into battle.
The game started physically from both sides. Cranleigh carried well but so did the Bognor pack, George Castleton and Lee Balchin providing quick ball for the speedster Sam Newcombe, who began impressively with a few explosive line breaks and slick passing technique.
James Barlow and Darren Bidwell started well but were not used to the impressive counter-rucking that Cranleigh brought to Hampshire Avenue.
Bognor gave away a penalty, but was missed by the No8 – though unfortunately for Bognor, he soon managed to intercept a poor pass and score under the posts for a 7-0 lead.
Next came a piece of magic from Bidwell. After great hands out to him from David Sweeney, Chris Clare and Josh Burgess, Bidwell chipped over the Cranleigh backs, gathered his own kick and offloaded out the back door to vice-captain and supermodel Shane Stevens, who finished with ease in the corner after great footwork – 5-7.
The front row was a heavyweight one and Christopher Webb, Joe Burns and Aaron Cook provided savage go-forward ball in the tight areas.
The backs bubbled up nicely and the running moves that the boys are capable of came to light. Pat Gibbs and Paddy Burnett showed superb pace out wide and Cranleigh had to force the game inside.
Castleton used his wise head and picked from a close ruck to score another for Bognor – 12-7 with the conversion.
Burgess has the footwork of a ballerina but power too – and this power in the midfield created acres of space for skipper Balchin to scream out wide and score after a great miss-pass from Newcombe – 19-7 with the conversion.
In the second half, Bognor were on the back foot after a Cranleigh lineout on the home side’s five-metre line.
The Bognor boys decided to try to play the offside defence and Cranleigh bowled over and a few confused faces gazed at the ref – 19-14.
Jack Tompkins was making a rare appearance played a part in Castleton doing everything perfectly for his second try of the game to make the opposition back-row look like schoolboys – it was 26-14 after an easy conversion.
Cranleigh struck again and the big second row and outside centre were their stars and carried well for their teams all game. The away side scored swiftly in the corner – 26-21.
Both teams were starting to tire and Aaron Cook, having scrummaged superbly, was replaced by the relaxed but reliable Casim Ali.
Phase after phase came and the offloads started to really link well between the Bognor pack. Webb broke the line and somehow managed to run three-quarters the length of the pitch with one boot on. He drew the last defender and gave the egg to the oncoming Gibbs, who finished immensely for a 31-21 lead.
The game finished 31-27 and Bognor are through to the next round.
Bognor: Webb, Burns, Cook, Barlow, Bidwell, Balchin, Groome, Castleton, Newcombe, Sweeney, Stevens, Clare, Burgess, Burnett, Gibbs.