CHICHESTER slipped to a disappointing National three London south-east defeat by 22-15 when they began 2015 with a long trip to Guernsey.
After a 6am meet and a flight, they knew they were facing a side to always difficult to beat on home soil.
Very heavy rain and strong winds made the flight uncomfortable and then there was a long wait for the game to start.
Maybe this accounted to some degree for a terrible start by Chichester. The receiving kick-off was fumbled twice and an early penalty conceded and Guernsey licked their lips as Chi gifted an attacking scrum to the Greens.
Although the Blues scrum put some pressure on, Barnes, the home team’s star player at No9, brushed past some pretty ineffectual tackling to score with the game only minutes old.
Another fumbled KO return was followed by two missed tackles and again the Blues were piling pressure on themselves. As is perhaps the way from a potential pressure-relieving 22 drop-out, they were in front of the kicker – and after repelling another wave of attacks kicked the ball straight out from another 22 drop out.
To round off an horrendous opening 15 minutes, Shopland was bizarrely yellow carded for a no-arm tackle. Yellow is often seen when a tackle is high or involves the upper body – but never seen as here, with Shopland diving at the ball carrier’s feet.
Worse was to follow with two forwards missing tackles and the home centre carving his way under the post for a 12-0 lead.
The next twenty mins saw more parity with a penalty each way, making it 15-3.
The last ten minutes of the half saw the Blues start to show they could play, with Bentall winning great lineout ball and Joe Woods getting on top at scrum-time.
But a theme of the day was that the rub of the green would not go the Blues’ ways with last-minute fumbles or a series of decisions from the official going against them.
Chi knew they had let themselves down and were not playing anywhere near their level. The home side, playing in front of a vocal crowd, were playing with real intensity as they looked to get their own season back on track and get out of the relegation zone.
The second half started with yet another confusing decision with Andy Gray, having been on for one minute, pinned at the ruck by a Guernsey player and yellow-carded for a repeat offence.
The Blues were really struggling with the decisions and Guernsey sensed their opportunity. With a man extra they exposed the Blues’ fragility in defence to race through under the posts and make it 22-3.
A weaker side may have capitulated but Chichester rallied behind the perpetual-motion skipper Ben Polhill and picked up the pace.
Jack Bentall was having a storming match with lineout ball and open-play breaks and for 30 minutes Chichester dominated nearly all phases.
Time and again the defence crept up beyond the back foot but it was not until the last ten minutes that the Blues started gaining the penalty rewards. It was too little too late – the greater front-foot ball gave Richard Neil the space to power round the ruck and surge over to make it 22-10.
With Henry Anscombe now in at No9 and moving the ball quickly, the Blues sensed they might be able to drag the game back from the dead and with five minutes to go, Barnes was yellow carded for in at the side and Chris Johnson, who had another powerful game, smashed over to bring the score back to 22-15.
Chi ran the ball from everywhere but couldn’t fashion a final score. 15-22
After such a fine run before Christmas, the Blues were extremely disappointed. They struggled with some decisions but individual mistakes in tackles and handling compounded the situation and despite two or three Herculean efforts it was not enough.
Guernsey have had injury problems this season but they will trouble most teams in the league at home.
Blues skipper Polhill said: “We were missing a few players but that should not hide the fact we weren’t good enough for the 80 minutes.
“We will look long and hard at our performance and take the lessons learned. While very disappointed I’m proud of the way we dug in to drag what at times looked a very unlikely point from the game and at least gave our loyal band of supporters something to cheer at the end.”
This Saturday, Chichester take on Tonbridge Juddians who are fresh from a win over East Grinstead.
CHICHESTER: Dowding, Shopland, Woods, Lindsay, Neil, Johnson, Polhill, Bentall, Durkin, Marsh, Jackson, Renwick, Lowe, Driscoll Anscombe. Reps: Belcher, Gray, Golds.