Bognor battle to Eastleigh victory - but it’s too late to save them

In appalling conditions at Eastleigh, Bognor turned on a superb display of controlled rugby to avenge their defeat at home in the first match of the season and win 31-14.

Regrettably for the visitors, the other sides battling relegation also managed to win which means that, for the first time in their history, Bognor will find themselves playing in Hampshire one next season.

It is little consolation to note that, during this craziest of seasons, Bognor beat four of the top five sides in the league because this shows their record against the lower sides left much to be desired.

The squad has been decimated by injuries and, had the team who played at Eastleigh been available on more occasions, Bognor would almost certainly have finished in the top half of the table.

A further irony is that the eight games they won would have been sufficient to ensure survival in any of the other London leagues.

The extremely competitive nature of this particular division, however, meant that the inability to field a front row

against Purley John Fisher in mid-March and the subsequent deduction of five points ultimately proved not only the low point of the season but also the difference between staying up and going down.

Despite the pouring rain and strong wind Bognor were quickly into their stride, Josh Devitt kicking accurately for the corners to set up good field position. The first 15 minutes were spent entirely in Eastleigh’s half and the visitors came

close to scoring on several occasions.

It was certainly against the run of play when, in their first foray into Bognor’s 22, the home pack drove over from a lineout to take an unexpected lead.

Bognor finally made their pressure tell when Karl Flinn marked his last match as head coach by crashing over the line after a mazy 30m run. Rob Parry converted to put his side back on even terms.

Flinn was involved again a few minutes later, a perfectly-delivered pass to Pat Gibbs allowing the scrum-half to show his pace and touch down for Bognor’s second try.

With half an hour gone the visitors’ forwards were well on top and Gibbs repeated his earlier trick, sprinting through a flat-footed defence for a great individual try. Parry converted to give his side a healthy 14-point half-time lead.

With conditions deteriorating, Bognor continued to dominate territory and possession, a simple penalty from Parry putting them further out of reach. Eastleigh rallied briefly when they were awarded a penalty try following a scrum near the visitors’ line but, this apart, Bognor rarely looked threatened.

The bonus-point try arrived when Luke Rokotakala, on for Josh Riggall, smashed through the Eastleigh midfield for a trademark score. Parry’s successful conversion maintained his 100 per cent record in his last game for the first team after ten

seasons of playing for Bognor.

There is no doubt that the Welshman’s all-round skills and vision could easily have seen him playing at a higher level and his reassuring presence will be sorely missed.

There were mixed feelings, too, for Lee Balchin, who ended his three-year reign as captain with a memorable win but with a disappointing finale to the season.

During a transitional period when Bognor lost literally a whole team to injury, retirement and moving out of the area, no-one could have done more than Balchin to encourage the youngsters and hold the fort.

At the end of the day, however, Bognor were just not good enough to stay up and it will be up to the new captain and a very young squad to confront the fresh challenges that next season will bring.

BOGNOR: Devitt, Stevens, Riggall, Brock, Legge, Parry, Gibbs, Morgan, P Mitchell, Angelou, Tompkins, Harding, Balchin, N Mitchell, Flinn. Reps: Ubsdell, Masters, Rokotakala.