In another nail-biting thriller, which these two sides seem to serve up every time they meet, Horsham overcame Hove 37-35 with a penalty from Joe Wilde in the final play of the match.
Horsham have now won the Bob Rogers Cup, which is the highest ranked cup competition in Sussex, for five successive seasons. The cup win combined with a fourth place finish in London 2 South East, which is the highest since promotion three years ago, provided the 1st XV with its most successful season, in which Kyle Fairs was ever present, since they were relegated from what is now London 1 in 1999 and the club suffered repeated relegations and spent a number of years languishing in the Sussex League.
However when taking the success of the club’s Colts and Junior sides into account this ranks as the most successful season of all time. Horsham Colts completed a Sussex League and Cup double on Sunday when they beat Hove 19-8 in the final and have the National u18s Cup semi-final to look forward to away to Maidenhead on 6 May, Horshamu 16s won the Sussex League and came runners up in the Cup, and Horsham Under 15’s completed a Sussex League and Cup double.
A scoreline of 37-35 does not begin to tell the story of the match. Horsham raced into a 34-15 lead after 50 minutes but a redoubtable Hove, who never know when they are beaten, bounced back with three tries to take a 34-35 lead before Joe Wilde, under huge pressure, sealed the win.
Having secured promotion last weekend by beating Old Reigatians in a play-off to win promotion to London 1 South, Hove entered the came with confidence and were able to rotate their squad by leaving regulars Ryan Storer, Declan Peake, Patrick Andrews and Phil Dugard on the bench in case needed later in the game, whilst withstanding the absence of their international contingent of Luke Torres playing for Gibraltar against the UAE and Rene Pavlides making his debut for Cyprus against Serbia.
Initially Hove had the upper hand. Gareth Davies hit the post from a scrum penalty awarded against Horsham who tried to break out from the rebound but following a poor kick and the Green and Whites defending too narrowly, winger Sam Bath combined well with Jack Silcocks for Bath to score out wide but the kick was missed.
Horsham bounced back immediately when 18 year old flanker Vince Everitt burst through a gap in the Hove midfield to cross the line off the back of a line-out. Wilde converted and Horsham took a 7-5 lead.
Hove retook the lead when their other winger Guy Patton scored after the ball was spun wide from a strong first phase platform, then Wilde pegged back the deficit with a penalty following an Everitt turnover. 10-12.
Horsham were having difficulty in building field position because of not straight in the line-outs but the next score was a penalty for Davies from Hove for a ruck offence. Then straight from the kick-off Horsham won a penalty for crossing and this time following a good line out set play Jonny Goward powered over the line to score on the crash, which was converted by Wilde, and Horsham went into the break leading 17-15.
At the start of the second half the Green and Whites had a purple patch scoring 17 points in ten minutes. Strong running and recycling saw Everitt score his second try which was followed by Mike Watts storming through off first phase play and then chip right for Wilde following up to catch the ball as it bounced to score under the posts. Wilde converted both tries and then a penalty and after 50 minutes Horsham lead 34-15.
For Hove it was now time to bring on the cavalry in one of the fightbacks for which they have become famous which coincided with the hugely influential Jonny Whiting for Horsham leaving the field injured having twisted his ankle. They started to apply pressure at the scrum and from a penalty advantage Patton was in for his second try although the conversion attempt was missed by Rob Biggs. 34-20. The Hove backs were threatening to cut loose, requiring a great tackle back from Tom Blewitt to stop a certain score but eventually Biggs crossed the line from a dummy at a ruck to score Hove’s fourth try but this time the kick was missed by Davies, and in contrast to Wilde who did not miss a kick all afternoon, Hove’s profligacy was to prove costly in the final reckoning. 34-25.
Patton then made a great break from a turnover out wide to feed centre and captain Martin Macdonald to cross for a try which was converted by Davies. Hove won a penalty for a deliberate knock-on and the kick gave them a line-out just outside the Horsham 22. When Hove attached again they secured a penalty advantage and Ryan Morlen hit a drop goal to take a 35-34 lead in an astounding come back.
There was still however time from the restart for Horsham to mount one last attack and when Hove conceded a penalty in the final minute Wilde calmly slotted the kick and secure the spoils.
A delighted Horsham Head Coach Nick Stocker said after the game: “Another close encounter with Hove which is becoming the norm between both teams who play a fast running brand of rugby. Quality tries in abundance from both sides which is testament to the standard of rugby at London 2 and a great game to end the season.
"A number of players had strong games and it also served as an opportunity to give a few fringe players valuable game time who due to limited replacements in League fixtures don’t always get opportunities.
"In particular Johnny Goward and Ryan Maguire were very strong in the second row, Nick Bell and Jordan Smith were again consistently good whilst Eliot Mills and Joe Wilde played excellently - and Joe’s final pressure kick was coolness personified.
"Whilst the whole squad contributed, particular mention should be made of Vince Everitt who had another storming game. Stepping up from the Colts and missing their cup final yet helping himself to two tries and being a nuisance all day demonstrates his potential. Also Mike Watts in his last game for the club, played excellently and his threat from the back was present throughout and best demonstrated by the way he set up Joe Wilde’s try this afternoon. He will be missed next season and we wish him all the best in the future.
"Congratulations to Hove on their promotion to London 1, and for Horsham, the opportunity to recover now and plan for next season where we will target further improvement on the 4th place finish. With the Colts securing a win over their Hove counterparts on Sunday, this has been a good weekend for Horsham and bodes well for the future. Indeed the Colts have their National Cup semi-final this weekend which we all wish them the best of luck for.
"Thanks to all players, coaches and of course supporters who continue to make Horsham rugby club a vibrant club to be part of. Enjoy the break and we will be back at it from July.”