After being on the back foot for the majority of the first 60 minutes of their home tussle with Gravesend, Chichester rallied strongly and scored a brilliant winning try to add to the one they scored soon after kick-off.
It was a very close encounter in National three London south east, with both teams tackling hard throughout. Gravesend failed to take their chance when Blues went down to 13 men for nine minutes in the second half.
This was Chi’s second league double and they have now won three of their past four games against their old rivals from Kent over two seasons. It was a gutsy performance that showed team spirit makes all the difference in tense games.
It was Chi’s 12th win with five games remaining, two at home and three away.
On a cloudy, drizzly day, the pitch had some muddy patches. Chi had Ben Robson on the right wing, Ed Durkin returning from injury at scrum-half and Billy Toone on the bench. Chi were soon driving forward with Chris Johnson thrusting.
After five minutes Durkin made a clean break down the blindside as fly-half Marsh started a diagonal run to take Durkin’s inside offload and sprint 22 metres to score under the posts. It was a breathtaking try with the visiting defence taken completely by surprise. Marsh added the conversion.
Chi started to give away penalties and Gs kickers got to work with long touches. Chi came back with a 20m drive maul and Jon Lindsay captured a bad lineout throw, the first of several by Gs.
However, Chi came under pressure in the scrum and replacement hooker Joe Shopland came on. Phil Dickin launched a drive from the lineout which was held and a series of penalties put Chi into their own 22, where full-back Toby Golds made a fine clearance kick.
Gs turned the screw with forwards and backs trying hard to find a gap but Chi defended stoutly for a long period. Eventually another penalty put Gs to the right corner and they drove inwards for big lock Irvine to dive over. The conversion was missed so it was 7-5 to the Blues.
The home back-row were impressive as they made their tackles, Ben Polhill and Jack Bentall preventing any deep incursions. Gs might have given quicker ball to their backs but when they did they were met by firm cover tackles, Tom Jackson on the wing doing particularly well.
Chi gradually emerged from their bunker and a backs move threatened until a bad pass went into touch. Durkin was clever enough to rescue from the back of the scrum, Dickin and Bentall were in good form in the lineout and Marsh was lively when he got the ball.
The trouble was Chi conceded a total of nine penalties in the 40 minutes for technical offences. At half-time a good talk was required.
Chi restarted with Billy Toone and Richard Neil on as replacements.
There was a good chance on the left after a Gs mistake. Bentall ran hard and with the full-back to beat he opted for a pass outside to the wing but it went astray.
Gs went back on the attack an pressed hard across the pitch. Chi defended again but Johnson was given a yellow card, followed a minute later by loose head prop Ken Dowding.
With only 13 men left, surely the writing was on the wall for Chi. However, Gs’ big forwards were tackled to the ground and when the ball was passed out, they could neither penetrate in the centre nor find the overlaps.
Chi turned them over and Toone and Golds cleared up. Gs settled for a penalty before Chi resumed full strength and this was kicked by full-back Dorton for an 8-7 lead.
Chi went up a gear – Aaron Lowe made a half-break and Chi were awarded only their second penalty. A third followed straight after.
Then another maul, this time 25 metres out, saw Marsh send a long kick to Vultures’ Corner. Gs lost the lineout and the Chi pack smashed at Gs defensive wall, Phil Veltom, Johnson and Bentall using all their power to try to get a touchdown from five metres out.
Gs defence was too good and Chi were held up. Robson linked with Lowe and a penalty was won just inside the 22. This time Chi went for the penalty three points but missed.
With the crowd excited by Chi’s resurgence, Golds passed to Johnson who hurtled across halfway and gave a wonderful reverse offload from the back of the hand to Robson, running in support.
Gs defence was nowhere and he had a triumphal 30m run under the posts with Chi supporters ecstatic. Marsh converted to make it 14-8.
Gs pressed once more but Chi denied them and cleared from a penalty when Gs held on at a breakdown. Bentall caught cleanly at the lineout as Chi moved to Vultures but he was injured shortly after and left the pitch with a dislocated shoulder.
They got over the try line but were ruled held up and Gs cleared. Gs had the last play with their forwards but Chi stopped them once again. This week Chi go to Hertford to try to avenge their 30-25 defeat at Oaklands. Kick off is 3pm and there’s room on the coach for supporters.
CHICHESTER: Dowding, Belcher, Veltom, Lindsay, Dickin, Johnson, B Polhill, Bentall, Durkin, Marsh, Jackson, T Polhill, Lowe, Robson, Golds, Shopland, Neil, Toone.