THEIR 19-15 triumph over Gravesend was a glorious win for Chichester in a thrilling game that was a fine advert for top-quality amateur rugby.
Chi won the crunch London one south clash deservedly by two tries, a penalty try and two conversions to four penalties and a drop goal.
They twice came from behind and in the last ten minutes had to defend heroically to clinch the points, putting them four ahead of Gs at the top.
The Kent men have an easy game in hand so Chi go into their last two games with an outside chance of the title - but will secure a promotion play-off with just one more point.
Third-placed Brighton are ten points behind and are away to Gravesend this week.
Chi’s triumph avenged their one-point loss in the away fixture and Gs must blame poor discipline which cost them two yellow cards in the second half. Both teams were cheered off at the end by the large crowd who had one of the best wins by the Blues in their league history.
On a sunny afternoon, the ground was packed with supporters of both teams. Chi winger Dom Reid failed a fitness test and was replaced by Ben Robson. University returnees Joe Woods and Henry Anscombe were at tight head and scrum-half. Head coach Rob Lawrence started at hooker and there was an impressive bench of Billy Toone, Tom Belcher and Chris Johnson.
The Blues knew they faced the biggest pack in the league, the leading kicker - scrum-half Zanirato - and fast backs. They kicked off into the sun buoyed by a roar from the crowd.
Gs were soon attacking and Toby Golds cleared well before Chi went over at a ruck and Zanirata slotted the penalty.
Gs spun the ball to their big centres but Sam Renwick introduced himself with a shuddering tackle. But a maul offence followed and Zanirato made it 6-0.
Chi got going and a penalty was missed from 30m. Gs showed the force of their driving maul and Golds and Adams had to clear from a grubber kick to the right corner.
A big Adams touch-kick put Chi ten metres out and the backs moved competently without penetrating. A Gs breakout and crosskick caused confusion and they were nearly across before Robson came in at the side and was sinbinned. Zanirata obliged with his third success to make it 9-0.
The Gs fly-half’s speculative kick and a cruel bounce took the ball away from the Blues defence and into the arms of the flying Gravesend winger. He was away and looked certain to score but Tanner showed unbelievable pace to catch him with a try-saving tackle. Golds made a superb flying tackle to save another certain try at the left corner.
Chi swept to the other end and the backs again went close but were met by good covering. They drove into the right corner where Jack Bentall was held up. Moses Kasujja was also held as he surged from a scrum.
The pressure told and Nick Blount delivered from a lineout for the drive to go in and Lawrence touched down. The conversion was missed.
Chi swarmed again and Kasujja carried 20 metres, bouncing tacklers. Just before the break, a Gs move was intercepted by the alert Robson, who raced 50 metres to score - ending with an extravagant celebration. The conversion made it 12-9 to the Blues.
Gs restarted in determined fashion and outside-centre Meddings had to be cut down in full flight. Chi defended two scrums well but were penalised at a third in front of the posts and Zanarito kicked his fourth penalty.
Chi drove from another lineout but the Gs’ loosehead infringed and was yellow carded. The visitors counter attacked swiftly and fly-half Bressons dropped a delightful goal for a 15-12 lead.
Back went Chi and slick handling by Anscombe, Renwick, Johnson and Woods put Belcher on a powerful run into Vultures’ Corner - but Gs escaped with a knock-on which may have prevented a try.
Play ebbed and flowed with Bentall outstanding with attempted breaks and no-nonsense tackles.
Johnson crashed through and at the ruck a Gs lock received their second yellow. A penalty and drive saw Chi about to touch down, only for the ball to be killed by Gs and penalty try awarded, Adams converting.
Zanarito made a classy break but the Gs pack decided they would have to do the job. They drove Chi back and camped ten metres out.
The Blues fought like demons and survived four scrums against them, despite prop Will Turner being sinbinned.
Chi regrouped and at the fifth shove, they forced Gs into a knock on at the rear, Toone seizing the ball and clearing to touch.
The referee blew to end a heart-stopping contest. Both teams received warm applause and the cheering for Chi was resounding. This week brings a tough challenge at Wimbledon who won by two points at Oaklands in December. They too have a high-class kicker. Mass support will be welcome for the 3pm start.
Director of rugby Paul Colley said: “Today was a massive show of heart and determination against very strong opponents. Our guys did Chichester proud.
“On a day of high emotion, the lads pulled together inspired by the words of Ash Wheeler shortly before the game - he was playing first-team loosehead prop only a few months ago but is now involved in the biggest battle of his life.”
CHICHESTER: Turner, Lawrence, Woods, Blount, Dickin, Goldie, Polhill, Kasujja, Anscombe, Adams, Robson, Bentall, Renwick, Tanner, Golds, Belcher, Johnson, Toone.