Wow what a finish! Chichester retained their two-point lead in London one south with a fantastic back-from-the-dead 24-20 win at Dover.
Chichester knew they would need to repeat their good form of recent weeks if they were to return from the Kent coast with any points as Dover have proved very tough to beat on their own patch over the years.
The coaches had tricky selection decisions, with six players from the previous week unavailable and injuries still keeping out half-backs Billy Toone and Richard Adams and prop Ash Wheeler.
The return of Jack Walker from long-term injury gave him the opportunity to start at 12 to replace Jack Bentall, and big Nick Blount came on to the bench after five weeks out injured.
See video of Rob Lawrence talking about the season so far and the promotion race at www.chichester.co.uk/video
The pitch, although wet, was not in bad condition and Chi chose to play up the significant slope in the first half.
The red shirts of Dover tore into the away side seemingly able to turnover blue ball at will. There looked a case for the tackler not rolling away several times but the Reds were not going to wait for decisions and they looked to capitalise.
The Dover 12 certainly let Jack Walker know he was there with a massive early tackle although the Dover player had to leave the field.
With only five minutes gone, the under-pressure Blues defence was breached: hard, straight running created space out wide and a well-timed kick put the winger away. A good offload gave the home side their first score and it was 5-0.
The streetwise home side won the breakdown area and the Blues were struggling against the elements. Dover’s big backs carried hard and quick ball worked an overlap wide right for another score. The Dover fly-half, excellent throughout, slotted the extras for a 12-0 lead.
Dickin, as always, caught excellently in open play and lineout and Moses Kasujja put his body on the line time and again to try to rally the Blues.
Leon Driscoll, standing in at No10, tried his best with scrappy ball but the momentum was in the home side’s favour. Another try gave a 17-0 lead and a regulation penalty brought a very tough half to a close at 20-0.
Some very harsh words from director of rugby Paul Colley stated in no uncertain terms that the game could be retrieved with the slope in their favour but only with the whole side playing with pride.
Kasujja powered forward with O’Callaghan adding excellent breakdown support. Quick ball made it a different game.
Durkin zipped the ball away and young Nat Jackson was one on one with his opposite number. With a superb change of directon, the debutant dashed past him to score.
A lineout catch from Blount put Chi in an excellent driving position close to the home line. Collins, always playing on the edge, transgressed once too often, killing the ball off his feet and left the field with a yellow. Another strong Blues carry ended with Blowers leaving the field, again going off his feet and in at the side in the kill zone.
With Dover down to 13, Chi knew they had to capitalise. Kasujja powered off the back of a strong scrummage platform and smashed over and Driscoll slotted the extras - suddenly it was 20-8.
The home side dug in and an enthralling battle ensued but some wrong options and one or two poor kicks from Chi allowed the Reds to halt any further scores - and with the return to 15 men, Dover started to apply pressure of their own.
The Blues were rock-solid at scrum time with young Joe Woods having another excellent game, but time was running out.
With only about ten minutes to go, the home side broke strongly down the right and the winger was in for what looked like a clinching try - but Durkin produced a stunning tackle with such force, the ball was dislodged over the line and there was no score.
Head coach Rob Lawrence, now on as a replacement, put in a thumping tackle as the Blues fought to the end.
With only three minutes to go, the coach was involved again with a deft pass, putting the flying Driscoll away. The Barbadian international showed all his pace and power to shrug off the tackle and score out wide. He smashed the ball through the middle to gain the extras and it was 20-19.
Last play was shouted by the ref as the blues received the kick-off. Lee Latu juggled but held on, Walker, now at nine, moved it away. There was huge pressure from the Dover backs, but Dickin hit a good line timing his pass to Renwick.
Renwick drew and gave it outside the Chi 22 to Rory Tanner; a swerve took him past the first defender then with a jink inside and two changes in pace, the young winger had made the halfway line with more defenders pouring across.
An inside arch took him away from the next tackler and with 30m to go, Tanner tore down the touchline to outpace the cover to score an unbelievable try. The conversion was missed but the ref blew to signal a 24-20 win.
Head coach Lawrence said: “It was an unbelievable win but we are under no illusions - our first half was simply not good enough.”
Director of rugby Colley said: “At half-time, we were playing only for pride after such a poor start. Technically we weren’t great but the belief and the heart was incredible.
“With the number of changes we had to make this was a big week. I was really pleased to see Nat have such a memorable debut and what a try it was by Rory.”
This week the attacking Cobham side visit Oaklands Park - all support welcome.
CHIL Turner, Belcher, Woods, Lindsay, Dickin, Latu, Goldie, Kasujja, Durkin, Driscoll, Jackson, Walker, Renwick, Tanner, Jackson, Lawrence, O’Callaghan, Blount.