Chichester remain top of London one south after a hard-fought come-from-behind 38-33 victory at Portsmouth’s Rugby Camp.
The hosts had not played well in their opening league game at Dover and were ready to throw everything at the Blues in their first home game. But Chichester weathered the storm and came away with a second win from their opening two league clashes.
Chichester head coach Richard Isaac said: “It was a real test and the guys had to dig deep. We made several mistakes and lacked fluency but we showed the commitment to fight back for a great win.”
Blues director of rugby Paul Colley added: “Portsmouth look a decent outfit and we showed fantastic commitment to virtually shut them out of the game in the second half. Scott Barlow and Billy Toone were outstanding as indeed were a host of forwards. There’s lots to work on but we’ve made a decent start.”
Chichester had to make some changes. Tom Lowe replaced Moses Kasujja and Martin O`Callaghan gave solid forward cover on the bench, with Phil Veltom coming back to replace the injured Jon Lindsay.
The Blues started solidly but soon incurred the wrath of the referee, allowing the hosts to pin them back.
Solid lineout work and a good clearance cleared the danger before Pearham just missed a difficult penalty chance. But Chichester kept up the pressure, forcing several turnovers and winning another penalty which was put away.
The black and yellows’ forwards upped the tempo and the Blues made a few errors, with a long kick downfield not handled properly as Richard Adams tried to knock the ball over the onrushing Matt Gronow - only for it to end up in the winger’s hands. He raced through unopposed for the try.
The Blues started to miss first-up tackles and the Pompey backs had space to run. Quick ball allowed Gronow to breach the defence for his second try.
Toone, as he did all day, set the tempo with lightning breaks to stretch the home team. From one, he found hooker Lawrence running a great line in support to go over for Chichester’s first score.
Pearham’s kick was charged down and the sideways bounce went to straight to a Pompey hand to go over in the middle for a 19-8 lead.
Toone again sparked a response with a darting run from the resulting ruck and Pearham kicked three points.
As the half came to a close, Chichester were camped deep in the home team 22 with a great catch and drive.
Portsmouth scrambled from the side but as the Blues looked for the yellow card and a penalty try, the ref signalled half-time.
Chichester re-jigged the pack with O’Callaghan coming into the row. From the off, the influential Barlow began to create multiple phases. Veltom started to get his hands on the ball and O’Callaghan cleared the ruck area.
Toone released the runners and back-row powerhouse Johnson surged over. With the conversion missed it was 19-16.
The Blues pressure told with O’Callaghan hitting a short line to score their third try. The conversion pushed them into a 23-19 lead.
Chichester switched off at a 50m kick from Portsmouth that was not handled well, resulting in a home lineout, and following a couple of phases Portsmouth swept over for another score.
The Blues regrouped and their commitment was exemplified by prop Nick Shopland catapulting himself to fell another pompey runner. Johnson surged again from a lineout and a desperate defender dragging the maul down as the Blues were about to score.
The ref awarded a penalty try to clinch Chichester’s bonus point.
Lawrence and then Barlow powered forward, Toone darted with Fairbairn up in support to give the inside pass for Veltom to hammer home the fifth try.
The Blues had played an incredible half and Pearham struck a sweet drop goal to see a 38-26 lead.
Portsmouth forced the away side to defend resolutely with three penalties in a row – and with 54 minutes on the clock, the ref ran behind the posts to award a strange penalty try.
Chichester host Thanet at Fortress Oaklands this Saturday (3pm).
CHICHESTER: Wheeler, Lawrence, Shopland, Barlow, Veltom, Johnson, Polhill, Lowe, Toone, Pearham, Robson, Dickin, Knowles, Fairbairn, Adams. Reps: O’Callaghan, Golds, Wagstaff.