Blues make merry in the mud at Hove

Ben Polhill - in action here against Havant - had a 'vintage' game at Hove  Picture by Louise Adams C131750-9
Ben Polhill - in action here against Havant - had a 'vintage' game at Hove Picture by Louise Adams C131750-9

In mud and rain at Hove, Chichester played superbly and earned another bonus-point win by scoring five tries and a conversion.

The 27-5 victory in London one south was a day for the forwards and they showed strength, skill, discipline and tactical control.

There were vintage performances by Ben Polhill, Phil Veltom and Chris Johnson in a powerful pack.

Hove were competitive and had the distinction of scoring their only try from a flowing backs move.

The Blues lost this fixture last season and that cost them dear. They were not going to let it happen again - and with Gravesend’s match rained off, the points took Chichester back to the top of the table.

The match took place on a reserve pitch which was playable but has a significant slope. Ryan Doyle and Jack Bentall returned and Aussie Lee Latu was on the bench.

Hove had the first benefit of the slope and Chi aimed to restrict any lead and then take full advantage in the second half.

They attacked and had the better of the first 20 minutes with solid driving mauls and line kicks for position.

At lineouts, Dane Gingell threw well and Phil Dickin and Niall Goldie jumped and caught securely. Attempts to spin the ball out were hampered by the treacle-like surface and knock-ons were to be expected.

A penalty was missed from just outside Hove’s 22. Their dangerous fly-half Phillips started to find his kicking range and they profited from quick ball from a scrum.

The backs ran hard, the Chi defence were drawn too easily and the right winger finished off at pace in the corner. Chi hit back and after maul, lineout and drive, Johnson dived over for a muddy try, the brown stuff now covering him and some others from head to toe.

Both teams probed for chances in midfield but it was clear Chi would keep it tight and were getting the upper hand.

They mauled to the right corner, the Hove loose head prop infringed and was sin binned.

A big drive followed and inside centre Bentall drew on his flanker experience to join in and peel off over the line, two tacklers on top of him unable to prevent the visitors taking a 10-5 lead.

The Blues had stopped Hove’s bulky No8 making good yards and were turning over ball at rucks. It had been a successful first 40 minutes and they were in the driving seat.

Chi were nearly caught out when Phillips kicked straight and low to the centre of the posts. A try was probable but the amazingly-fit Polhill appeared from nowhere to retrieve the situation.

The Blues set up a number of phases using line kicks, mauls and rucks. All pack members deserved a medal, with the front row first into the cauldrons, the steely locks right behind and the dynamic back row smashing through desperate tackles.

Veltom and Polhill carried and finally Goldie crashed over. Place kicking was now with Henry Anscombe and he kicked a fine conversion for a 17-5 lead.

Hove countered with two tap penalties and tried a backs move to the left but when the ball was switched back to the centre they knocked on.

By now most of the players were weighed down by the mud. At lineouts they looked like a platoon of Royal Marines commandos on a very mucky mission indeed.

There was an exchange of high kicks but Chi were sniffing a bonus.The big collisions caused Jack Walker and Doyle to leave the pitch and a Hove man was also taken off injured. Subs Will Turner, Lewis Harte and Latu came on.

A penalty into the Hove 22 led to drives and rucks, big Veltom ploughing over at impressive speed from close range. The bonus was in the bag.

Hove, to their credit, resisted to the end but they could not stop the fifth try, Polhill feeding Latu to dive and touch down.

Both sides had shown fitness and courage in a good old-fashioned slog and deserved the applause by spectators. Hove were sporting and they wished Chi good luck in their quest for promotion. No doubt all the players enjoyed their hot showers.

Chichester director of rugby Paul Colley said: “Today was always going to be a tricky fixture with Sussex rivalry and extremely difficult conditions.

“But considering how difficult the pitch and wind proved, I feel this was just about our best performance of the season.

“Hove have recruited a couple of very big Aussies but our tackling was immense with Johnson in particular putting a couple of piledrivers in to shift the momentum our way.”

This Saturday, the Blues entertain the very powerful Chobam side who caused the blues all sorts of problems away from home - Chichester know this will be a very stern test. A big crowd is expected for what will be a massive game - it’s a 2.15pm kick-off at Oaklands Park.

CHICHESTER: Woods, Gingell, Veltom, Lindsay, Dickin, Goldie, B Polhill, Johnson, Walker, Anscombe, Doyle, Bentall, Renwick, Jackson, Driscoll. Reps: Turner, Latu, Harte.

ROGER GOULD