Bognor eased themselves into mid-table in London three south west with a hard-fought 12-3 victory over a lively London Exiles team who kept going right to the final whistle.
Unbeaten for three games and with ten points their reward, Bognor now have a week off from league duty before aiming to continue their improved form at Old Paulines.
Harry Dyer’s shoulder injury meant a call-up for the experienced Lee Thompson. Shane Stevens returned on the wing and George Castleton in the centre, with Ulsterman Josh Devitt starting on the bench.
Bognor started strongly, Rob Legge making the first of several breaks into the Exiles half. The visitors counter-attacked sharply and made 70m before full-back Josh Burgess stepped in with a try-saving tackle and turnover.
The first 20 minutes provided little accuracy or structured rugby from either side, the game punctuated by errors and stoppages.
Bognor were far superior at the set-pieces, a dominance that became even more pronounced as the match wore on.
Two strong runs by Dan Brock put his side on the front foot and, after 26 minutes, Bognor had their first scoring opportunity when the Exiles were penalised for going in at the side. Rob Parry pushed his kick just wide from 35m.
Legge was involved in a great attack up the left, the visitors’ cover defence just managing to force the feisty scrum-half into touch. The Exiles threw long from the ensuing lineout but looked on in horror as Castleton plucked the ball out of the air and touched down for an opportunist try. Parry added the conversion points for a 7-0 lead.
Stevens almost squeezed over in the corner but Bognor failed to capitalise on their superiority at the set-piece and too often indulged in a free-for-all of patternless rugby.
With the strong wind behind them for the second half, Bognor were reasonably confident of eking out a win but knew they needed to be sharper at the breakdown and more alert in defence to halt the Exiles’ pacy backs.
All of the early pressure, however, came from the visitors.
Devlin came off the bench to put in a 50m kick and some much-needed territory. A few minutes later the Irishman again showed his class by accelerating through a seemingly non-existent gap and sprinting half the length of the pitch before his chip ahead went out in the corner.
Bognor put themselves under pressure when Karl Flinn was yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle and the concern deepened when skipper Lee Balchin was forced off with a recurrence of an old shoulder injury.
However, Castleton returned from the bench to assume his old position of flanker and such was the ex-skipper’s impact that he was eventually given the man-of-the-match award for his incisive running and devastating tackling.
The Exiles put together some strong attacks, Josh Riggall and Burgess doing well to keep their line intact on two occasions when tries looked certain.
Bognor’s front row of Morgan, Mitchell and Angelou, and, in the second half, Worthington, had a field day.
Tompkins ruled the roost at the lineout, taking all of his own ball as well as half the opposition’s. The young vice-captain shows a maturity beyond his years and is comfortable in any of the back five positions.
Ten minutes from the end Brock flew through the middle and looked certain to score, only to be halted by a great tackle in front of the Exiles’ posts. Bognor were awarded the put-in at the resulting scrum and Parry utilised the space with an armchair ride to the line.
With the result beyond doubt Flinn thought he had put the icing on the cake when he crossed from a lineout move, but the sharp-eyed referee disallowed the try for a technical offence.
After the match came news Luke Rokotakala had scored a hat-trick in his comeback for the seconds. That, plusthe fact Pat Gibbs is not far away from fitness, should intensify the competition for places.
BOGNOR: Burgess, Stevens, Brock, Castleton, Riggall, Parry, Legge, Morgan, Mitchell, Angelou, Dove, Thompson, Balchin, Tompkins, Flinn. Reps: Worthington, Goddard, Devitt.