Chichester miss out at Hove - but it could have been so different

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Chichester lost by the narrowest of margins - 14-13 - on the other wide of Sussex at Hove as the battle for the London one south title took another twist.

The 14-13 loss leaves Chichester level on 81 points with Guernsey at the top of the table – although the Channel Islanders are first thanks to their 17 wins, one more than the Blues have notched.

Chichester travelled to Hove expecting a tricky assignment with Sussex rivalry to the fore and Hove in good form.

Hove hadn’t played for two weeks while Chichester had played through the cold period and had several key players missing, with powerful skipper Scott Barlow injured and Tom Polhill attending a funeral.

The Blues shuffled their resources and still fielded a decent side.

The game started in squally conditions which worsened throughout.

The Blues kicked off with the significant cross-wind in their favour and started in determined fashion with Ross Fairbairn, back in the first XV after some strong performances in the twos, cutting some excellent lines to create some good field position and an early penalty chance. Stuart Pearham slotted the straightforward three points.

The forwards were creating pressure on the Hove scrum and lineout but possession was difficult to use well against determined defence and in slippery conditions under-foot and in hand.

After 15 minutes the Blues started to make unaccustomed errors with some poor positional kicks, and in the aerial battle Hove’s Phillips and Coulson came out on top. From one loose kick, Hove moved the ball well and two missed tackles later the home side were deep in the Blues’ 22.

Some excellent offloads saw Hove move the ball to score wide out. They followed that with a penalty to make it 8-3.

The Blues lifted their game and won the majority of possession but didn’t use the ball effectively. Two kicks with the wind as the half closed showed the home side were under pressure deep in their own half.

The forwards worked some powerful drives and were rewarded as big lock Nick Blount muscled his way over. The conversion was missed to leave it 8-8.

Chichester hadn’t managed the game well and knew against the wind it was going to be tough.

With Hove scrambling well in defence, Blair and veteran Wattam used their experience to live on the offside line to spoil and disrupt the the Blues’ ball.

Hove pressed hard and penalties came - two excellently-struck goals pushing them into a 14-8 lead.

Chichester lifted their energy with the lineout giving good possession and Rob Lawrence throwing well even against the elements.

Phil Veltom and Jack Taggart were carrying strongly over the gain line and Ben Polhill contested at every breakdown. The Blues made their surge with the scrum now shunting the Hove pack back.

Without the inspirational Blair, Hove would have been in serious trouble but he constantly cleared up.

Chichester sensed a chance as Veltom hit a great line. A good cover tackle brought him down but the big prop stretched over to score close to the posts - but a key decision came when the ref, by this time unsighted, claimed he had landed short.

Although from the subsequent scrum Moses Kasujja surged over, it was much wider out - and Pearham missed the conversion to leave Chichester 14-13 down.

Polhill rallied his troops and they drove strongly to fashion another opportunity.

It was a tough kick – harder than the earlier conversions – but the Blues’ No10 has kicked more difficult this season. Today it wasn’t to be and the ball went wide.

Chichester could and perhaps should have won but ultimately didn’t manage the game well enough in the first half.

Director of rugby Paul Colley said: “We knew this game could be very tricky and we just didn’t play the conditions quite well enough.

“We could have sneaked it but it wasn’t to be. We’re an honest team and accept we didn’t play well enough. Hove defended very well and looked dangerous with ball in hand. Their No8 was outstanding.

“We still have all to play for with twists and turns still to come.”

Veltom was named man of the match.

CHICHESTER: Wheeler, Lawrence, Veltom, O’Callaghan, Blount, Taggart, Polhill, Kasujja, Toone, Pearham, Golds, Fairbairn, Deed, Adams, Knowles, Gingell, Uta, Wagstaff.

There’s a week’s rest for the squad this weekend, with a massive game at home to Trojans to come on March 3.