After scoring a total of more than 100 points in their previous two matches, Bognor were given a harsh reality check by a well-organised and highly-committed Andover side who thoroughly deserved their 21-5 home win when the sides met in division one of the Hampshire League.
Struggling for the first time this season up front, Bognor never managed to exert meaningful control and they returned to Sussex knowing a great deal of hard work is needed if they are challenge the top teams in this league.
Jack Hornibrook, making his first start at scrum-half, took a high ball and a heavy tackle in the first minute but the 18-year-old did not flinch and went on to give a man-of-the-match display, notable for some superb tackling.
The visitors began strongly, skipper Jack Tompkins earning a penalty with great work at the breakdown. Lee Shergold kicked for the corner and then almost squeezed through the home defence from the resulting lineout possession. Andover kicked clear but it fell to Shane Stevens and the big winger brushed off a couple of tackles to score out wide.
For Bognor that was as good as it got, Andover first closing the gap with a penalty in front of the posts, then taking the lead when their centre cut a great angle to fly through the visitors’ midfield defence.
Even more alarming than the try itself was the fact it came from a penalty awarded after Bognor’s scrum had been destroyed on their own put-in.
This was new territory for Bognor’s front five, having been dominant in all of their previous matches. To their credit the visiting pack battled from start to finish but there was no escaping the fact that they were out-muscled by a more powerful unit.
After 25 minutes Connor Satturley, on for the injured Mike Reed, pulled off a try-saving tackle on the Andover winger and his cover defence arrived in time to hold the ball up over the line.
Shortly afterwards Andover were awarded a penalty and confidently chose to scrummage but, this time, Bognor’s pack turned the tables and won the ball against the head, allowing Hornibrook to clear his line.
It was Hornibrook’s turn to save a try with a great head-on tackle and half-time arrived with Bognor hanging on, having conceded the majority of territory and possession for the previous 20 minutes.
The start of the second half saw Bognor regaining their structure and going through the phases but, when they went backwards at the first scrum of the half, the pattern was set. The visitors were unable to capitalise on their superiority at the lineout and, with the backs starved of any sort of decent first or second-phase possession, they were left to feed on scraps.
Bognor’s three-quarters were penalised for being offside in front of their own posts, a decision that was highly ironic in that the home backs had been living offside for most of the first half.
Having said that Andover were good value for their eight-point lead and, when Bognor proceeded to lose a lineout on their own throw followed by another scrum against the head, both in good attacking positions, it was becoming difficult to see how they could get back into it.
Another offside penalty followed, another three points against - then Bognor were awarded one of their own in front of the home posts. Instead of taking the easy points on offer, however, a quick tap was taken and the move fizzled out.
Bognor managed at last to increase the tempo and enjoyed several minutes of pressure inside the Andover 22. When Dan Harding was yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle, however, the home side resumed control and drove the visitors back to their own line.
Having missed an easy chance to extend their lead a few minutes earlier, Andover were awarded a final try in the 15th minute of injury time against a tiring Bognor.
If Bognor’s young side can learn from this experience the return match in January should be one to savour. In the meantime they have a weekend off before welcoming Farnborough, currently just a point behind Bognor, on October 26.
BOGNOR: Reed, Stevens, Burgess, Upton, Riggall, Shergold, Hornibrook, Morgan, Ubsdell, Angelov, Harding, Barlow, Mitchell, Dyer, Tompkins.