EACH member of the makeshift Chichester squad deserved congratulations after the last game of the National three London south east season – even though it ended in defeat away to London Irish Amateurs.
They fought like tigers against the third-placed club who were highly motivated by the chance of a play-off for promotion.
Chi were in the lead at half-time and continued to battle as Irish found an extra gear to clinch the win. However, as Barnes got a losing bonus at Westcliff, Irish were disappointed.
The difference was four converted tries to three tries and two conversions.
It was the first Irish win against the Blues after five losses against them in different leagues. They were probably shocked by the Chi performance, which greatly pleased the travelling supporters.
Chi finished in seventh place after a mainly successful season and despite their injury problems.
It was a sunny day with a blustery wind blowing across an immaculate pitch. There was a festive spirit in the wonderful new clubhouse and Chi’s former president Alan Bradford nearly brought the roof down with a speech containing his best joke. He missed his vocation as a stand-up comedian.
The Blues had young Will Norton at loose-head prop making a good debut opposite a heavy and streetwise Irish opponent, a baptism of fire and useful experience for the future.
Alex Grace came in at blindside flanker, quality veteran Chris Wagstaff at scrum-half, with Robin Guest and Tom Jackson on the wings.
Buccaneer Chris Johnson was welcomed back at No8 and he and hooker Joe Shopland had outstanding games.
Chi were soon under pressure in the tight. Tom Belcher and Guest made ground along the touchline. Irish mauled strongly from the Chi 22 and with penalty and lineout they drove over, flanker Moore pressing down. A remarkable conversion saw the kick ‘turn left’ at the right upright thanks to the wind or fine judgement.
Chi stopped an attack and went away from the 22 but were brought back for offside and incredibly Ben Polhill was sin-binned. Shopland and Guest tackled firmly as Irish mauled again but Wagstaff came away with the ball.
The referee ignored pleas from the Chi supporters to penalise the regular crooked feeds by the home scrum-half. Pete Meachin stole a lineout and a penalty went to the right corner.
Irish stole it and tried to pass swiftly across their backs on the 22 but the alert Ben Robson made a dramatic intercept and raced across under the posts. A conversion by Alex Marsh made it 7-7 after 30 minutes.
The Irish drop-out went straight into touch and then Johnson broke through from the rear of the scrum, scattering tacklers and offloading to the supporting Ben Polhill to run 20 metres to the posts. Another Marsh conversion gave the Blues a 14-7 lead.
An Irish pass went into touch and their frustration boiled over, leading to a yellow card for their right winger and surprisingly one for the innocent Guest.
Irish kept trying to breach with their powerful centres but they were knocked back by solid Chi defence. A fight resulted in midfield and the Irish No8, the over-robust Mckinney, was sent to the bin for foul play and was lucky to escape a straight red card.
Just before the break, Chi were getting on top with Meachin competing in the lineouts and Marsh kicking for territory.
The Irish backs knocked on in the centre and a second thrust was stopped by Shopland. Johnson broke forward again and was a real thorn in the hosts’ sides.
Leon Driscoll rescued a dangerous situation with a last tackle on their outside centre. Chi mauled well and arrived in the left corner but the lineout throw was crooked and Irish cleared.
Chi had a chance from a scrum but amazingly the referee detected a crooked feed. The Irish got their act together at last and kept the ball with Chi tiring from the tackles they had made.
Inter-passing between forwards and backs gave the right winger space to cut inside and score after 20 minutes. The conversion levelled it at 14-14.
Two penalties brought Irish pressure and their backs passed quickly to find a gap and lock Pape crashed over – 21-14 with the conversion.
Heroically, Chi responded to the setback, won a turnover and from a penalty, lineout and controlled short maul, a clever dummy sent Johnson over for their third try. The conversion was short and wide.
Shopland made a huge break for 25m but no-one could keep up with him.and a penalty was conceded.
Irish were determined to get the fourth try and bonus. They did it from a scrum with good handling by the backs which full-back Turner finished off near the posts and was converted.
Johnson, Marsh and Kieran Mudd made gallant attempts but Irish held firm and were back on the attack as the final whistle blew to end a very competitive contest.
A happy coachload of players and supporters journeyed back to Chichester, morale restored by the performance.
It is sobering that two very good teams, Amersham and Tring, have been relegated from this demanding league which next season will include Wimbledon, Colchester and either Chobham or Eton Manor.
Chi say a sad goodbye to Joe Shopland, a fine young player who is emigrating to Australia. It was fitting he was joined by his father Nick in the front row during the second half of his last game.
It has been a mostly-successful first season in National three – as good as could have been expected – and the Blues look forward to September.
CHICHESTER: Norton, J Shopland, Belcher, Lindsay, Meachin, Grace, B Polhill, Johnson, Wagstaff, Marsh, Jackson, T Polhill, Robson, Guest, Adams. Reps: N Shopland, Mudd, Driscoll.