Bognor promotion bid goes from strength to strength
Bognor produced a fine and passionate performance to beat fellow promotion contenders Fareham Heathens 25-5, all but securing at least a play-off place with one game left to play in Hampshire One.
Fareham had attempted to postpone the game on Friday night due to waterlogged pitches however Hampshire RFU informed both sides that the fixture must be played either at Fareham, Bognor or at an alternative pitch. Fortunately Fareham’s pitch made an almost-unbelievable overnight recovery, despite further rainfall.
Bognor turned up to the game with exactly the right mindset – to be ruthless from start to finish. Fareham had most of the early possession but Bognor’s outstanding back row immediately set the defensive standard for the seasiders.
Lee Balchin, enjoying his finest performance of the season as stand-in captain, combined with Nathan Archer and Harry Dyer to shut down all of Fareham’s big runners within the first few minutes. A trademark hit double hit from Dyer and Balchin forced a turnover.
Shane Stevens enjoyed a burst upfield and was supported well but a knock-on gave Fareham back possession.
Bognor defended patiently to hold their field position before hooker Mark Ubsdell locked himself over the ball to earn a penalty. Fly-half Mike Calton took the points on offer to put Bognor in the lead.
Fareham mounted an attack but Bognor were hungry for the ball at every opportunity. Second-row pairing Tom James and Jacob Masters were a constant nuisance at the breakdown. From a masterful Masters turnover, Jack Hornibrook fired a long kick out of Bognor’s half and followed it up with a superb tackle on Fareham’s talismanic No8.
However Bognor’s appetite at the ruck got the better of them and the referee penalised them four times in a row gifting Fareham territory. A well-set maul from five metres saw the hosts cross the whitewash for an unconverted score. Under instructions from Balchin, Bognor reverted to a more patient defensive effort.
Calton came into the game nursing a hamstring injury but the fly-half managed his injury and Bognor’s game perfectly. Several beautifully crafted kicks, against the wind, kept Fareham pinned back. Calton then fed enormous winger Dan Brock who sprinted 40m downfield only to be denied by a try-saving tackle.
Bognor’s scrum came under some pressure but Chris Webb and Joe Burns held firm until half-time, allowing Webb an opportunity to change his moulded soccer boots for a pair of ankle-high Gilbert scrummaging boots with 20mm studs.
At the break coaches Rob Outen and Martin Broome urged Bognor to remain patient and aggressive in defence, knowing Fareham would tire as the game wore on. They were absolutely right.
Irishman Pat Gibbs, playing at scrum-half, intercepted a pass and hared downfield. He was brought down close to the line and Fareham infringed. A quick tap penalty followed and Gibbs darted over the line for a converted score.
Dyer, having made 23 tackles, went down with a knee injury so the brutish Gareth Thomas was introduced. The Welshman made an immediate impact. Jumbo James dominated kick-off and fed Thomas, who broke the line immediately.
He was supported by flyer Chris Clare, who was dragged down on the 22. Bognor’s supporters urged their side on and completely drowned out the home crowd.
Another tap and go from a penalty saw both Balchin and James go close to scoring but it was eventually Joe Burns who broke the deadlock, barging his way over from three yards out for his first-ever career try. Calton converted.
Fareham mounted an attack of their own and tried to maul their way over from 5m out again. This time, Bognor heroically kept them at bay.
Bizarrely Heathens opted for a scrum but the now suitably-booted front row of Ubsdell, Webb and Burns dominated it, allowing Calton time to clear.
Another Bognor attack resulted in Calton slotting a penalty giving them a two-try gap with fifteen minutes to play.
Josh Burgess made a long-range break and was brought down deep in the Fareham half. The centre somehow managed to then get his hands on the ball again but was held up short of the line.
Burns, bloodthirsty after his previous try, sensed another score. He scooped up the ball and barged over the line again, assisted by the weighty ballast of Hornibrook. Calton missed the conversion.
Bognor now knew they had the game won and went in search of an important bonus-point to keep the pressure on first-placed Millbrook.
Burns was held up over the line for what would have been a remarkable hat-trick. However it was not to be. The final whistle went cueing jubilant and emotional scenes from the Bognor’s players, supporters and coaches.
This week Bognor entertain Chineham in their final game of the season. A win will mean Millbrook must beat Fareham in their final fixture of the year to become champions.
Bognor’s young side are on the verge of promotion back into the London leagues and all support is truly appreciated.
BOGNOR: Webb, Ubsdell, J Burns, James, Masters, Balchin, Dyer, N Archer, Gibbs, Calton, Stevens, Burgess, Clare, D Brock, Hornibrook. Mason, Thomas, Riggall.
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