Pearham penalty peps up Chichster as they edge out Basingstoke

Chichester on the charge against Basingstoke  Picture by Louise Adams
Chichester on the charge against Basingstoke Picture by Louise Adams

There was high drama at Oaklands Park in the last five minutes of a terrific London one south game between Chichester and Basingstoke.

Stuart Pearham took aim with a penalty and you could have heard a pin drop. Over it went from 32 metres and Chichester had won by the narrowest margin - 15-14.

Both teams scored two tries and there was end-to-end excitement, players and supporters knowing their respective teams could not afford to lose.

The Blues had dominated the first 30 minutes but came unstuck after the harsh sin-binning of a player in each half which meant an uphill battle against very good opponents for 20 minutes. Stoke took full advantage and their first try was scored with Chichester a man short.

In many ways it was the reverse of the away game when Stoke supporters complained about their yellow cards, but on that occasion Chichester won with a try in the last minute.

Chichester just about deserved the points and Stoke can be proud of a stirring fightback which so nearly clinched it.

The pitch was hard on top but with softness underneath. Billy Toone returned from injury and started on the wing. Ski Sauliga came in at blindside flanker and Richard Adams moved to full-back.

Stoke kicked off badly and Chichester were quickly on the attack. From a Chris Wagstaff tap penalty the pack drove on the near-side and won a penalty but the kick was missed from 35m.

Stoke probed and Chichester conceded two penalties but the Stoke fly-half missed an attempt for three points. The hosts were in driving mode again, Toone tackled out at the corner.

The Blues hammered their try line and Tom Polhill, Scott Barlow, Phil Veltom and Moses Kasujja all just failed to go over against excellent tackling.

Eventually Nick Blount delivered the ball from the lineout and the drive went in. It was initially held but a smart left wheel put hooker Rob Lawrence across for his 13th try of the season. The conversion was put away by Pearham.

Stoke advanced with the aid of kicks awarded by the referee as he began his strict interpretation of the offside line with no recognition of fast but fair covering by the home side.

Suddenly, with play on halfway Sauliga intercepted a Stoke pass and charged down field. A good offload to Kasujja saw the No8 draw the last defender before passing to the left wing. The dynamic Toone engaged turbo and dived over at the corner. It was a fine try, but a difficult wide conversion failed. At 12-0 Chichester were firmly in the driving seat.

Tom Polhill was dismissed for ten minutes because he threw the ball on the ground after Stoke were given a penalty at a scrum. It was a silly thing to do but Stoke were opting for a scrum and their progress was not hindered. This led to a try as Stoke worked phases and Humberstone dummied towards the posts.

The ruck was two metres out and scrum-half Fish seized the ball firmly and scored next to the left post. A conversion by Humberstone made it 12-7.

Stoke battered Chichester’s defence, winning penalties and optional scrums but the line was held by equally strong tackles.

At half-time, the 14 men needed a breather.

Chichester drove hard when back to 15 and they should have taken three points for a kickable penalty. Instead their corner kick and lineout was efficiently repulsed.

Calamity followed when Blount was given a yellow card at a lineout for a barge on his opponent. It seemed a minor offence as the ball had been caught by the Stoke jumper and he had landed. It was also between halfway and the 22, so no significant loss to Stoke. However, the Blues had to accept it - and the subsequent Stoke onslaught.

Adams relieved things with a long touch clearance and Chichester won a penalty which seemed a comfortable distance for Pearham but he missed. Wagstaff was doing his best to restore momentum at the base of the scrum and Sauliga, Ben Polhill and Kasujja had a titanic battle in the back row to throw back their tough opposite numbers.

Back to a full complement, Chichester hoped for another score but were depressed when Stoke launched a fast attack to the left. They transferred neatly to the right touch and with phases worked back to the centre for Horne to find a gap and touch down, and Humberstone converted for a 14-12 lead.

With ten minutes left Lawrence and a Stoke player were sent to cool off. Chichester got back on the front foot and pressed to the try line.

Pearham landed the winning penalty and Chichester hurled themselves to the try line to make sure. A lineout and drive were held up before a final turnover.

Chichester are four points ahead of Guernsey, who had another bonus point win and have won 11 consecutive games. This week Chichester are at home to Lewes in the Sussex Trophy (2pm).

Director of rugby Paul Colley said: “This was a very tight game but I think we deserved the win in spite of harsh yellow cards. It was hard-fought and we had to defend well. We showed great desire to come out on top.”

CHICHESTER: Wheeler,Lawrence, Veltom, Barlow, Blount, Sauliga, B Polhill, Kasujja, Wagstaff, Pearham, Toone, T Polhill, Deed, Golds, Adams, Gingell, Goldie, Fairbairn.

ROGER GOULD