Chichester nearly won an absorbing end-to-end battle against their strong second-placed opponents CS Rugby and can be proud of their performance in a 16-13 defeat.
After a bad start when CS scored 13 points in 15 minutes, the Blues made a great recovery and were the better team in the second half which they won 8-3.
They restored their self-belief and commitment, the cornerstone of any success. In the end their opponents were hanging on as Chi pressed for a winning try and must have returned to Chiswick greatly relieved to have won for the first time in four attempts against the hosts in the London one south clash.
Chi will claim small bragging rights as they won the away fixture 20-10. CS are a very good outfit and should be able to secure at least a promotion play-off. Both sides scored two tries but the visitors edged it by two penalties to one.
Decimated by injuries, Chi had to make several changes. Their famous warrior over 20 seasons, Ben Polhill, was recalled to the captain’s role at No8. Ollie Charlish and Martin O’Callaghan joined him to form a new back row.
Jon Lindsay came into the second row, Ben Deavall was at loose head returning from serious injury, likewise Jack Arden-Brown on the bench. Eddie Jenkinson and Ben Robson were the centres.
CS kicked off and Chi gathered for Polhill and Deavall to make ground and fly-half Adrian Lynch kicked to the corner. CS cleared and moved quickly to the other end.
A penalty started some determined driving with war cries by their pack. Chi infringed three times and Deavall got a team yellow card for a deliberate knock on.
CS took the five-metre scrum and No8 Gibson was across for the first score, which was not converted.
The Chi drop-out kick was seized by CS and Robson had to stop them with one of his firm tackles. A penalty was awarded at the next raid and was kicked by full-back Houstoun for an 8-0 lead.
Nick Blount, O’Callaghan and Lynch probed and Robson intercepted for a clear run but was unable to retain the ball. CS charged again and from a scrum 20m out, the burly Gibson was tackled but not held and he broke another attempt before diving over the line. A missed conversion made it 13-0.
Chi were shaken and supporters feared the worst. Polhill went off for treatment to a head cut and was replaced by Arden-Brown.
Blues attacked with inter-passing and Robson impressed with a powerful run towards the right corner. CS replied and were knocked back by two solid tackles.
Chi were rapidly improving and getting up to speed, but Lindsay was knocked out in midfield and had to go off with concussion. More bad luck came when Cameron Hopkins departed with a tight hamstring problem, replaced by Toby Golds.
Blues rolled up their sleeves despite the setbacks and a penalty to Vultures’ Corner set up a series of drives and mauls with CS manning the barricade across the pitch and finally holding up at the left touchline.
Chi tried again and Seaman at scrum-half pounced as only he can to touch down at the rear of the bodies. A kicking tee could not be found in the 90 seconds allowed and Tom Hutchin tried a drop-kick conversion which was short – 13-5.
Jack Hamilton-Fox kicked superbly to the right corner as Chi kept up momentum but CS countered and Arden- Brown and Charlish had to tackle well in the skirmishes for possession.
Half-time arrived with Chi back in the game and confidence growing.
They restarted and it was ding-dong. Both sides attacked and tackled efficiently. Lynch was able to make half-breaks to feed Jenkinson and Robson and Polhill set the example at breakdowns.
CS over-used their big centres and they were chopped down by leg tackles when fast transfer to their wingers was a better option. Polhill, now in distinctive scrum cap, dashed along the right wing, CS held on at a tackle and Hutchin kicked the three points from 22m to make it 13-8.
CS scrum half Nixon changed tactic to kick for territory. They worked phases and Chi were penalised for not rolling away, Houstoun making it 16-8 from 35m head-on.
Hamilton-Fox was a swerving greyhound as he cut inside from the right and Hutchin kicked over the top to the try line. Nixon got back but was scragged and from the five-metre scrum CS tackled off the ball.
Hutchin sent the ball to the right corner and Chi hammered on the door. After several attempts to prise it open, Polhill smashed down on the line. The conversion drifted wide – 16-13.
CS tried their wingers but they were caught. Five minutes left,a penalty against worried CS and lineout to Chi but the throw was ruled crooked. Another penalty to Chi brought a Blount charge from the lineout but with a few metres to go a knock-on saved the visitors. They cleared their lines to end a thrilling game.
This week Chi face another good team at Cobham.All support welcome.
Chichester: Deavall, Belcher, Woods, Blount, Lindsay, O’Callaghan, Charlish, Polhill, Seaman, Lynch, Hamilton-Fox, Jenkinson, Robson, Hopkins, Hutchin, Arden-Brown, Knight, Golds.