A 19-12 loss in Hampshire League division one at United Services was a disappointing result for Bognor after an excellent week in training under the keen guidance of Lee Balchin and Billy Toone.
Balchin is desperately awaiting his return for days like this. Burnaby Road was the venue for an eagerly-anticipated showdown between two of the top teams in the league.
The encounter started with excellent defence from both sides, George Castleton and his back-row companions Bidwell and Adam Knight kept up their high success rates in the tackle area.
Billy Toone and Dave Sweeney linked up but were struggling to keep phase play ticking over with strong home defence keeping them at bay.
Bognor were camped in the US half for the majority of the first quarter, but positive defence from US and poor Bognor decision making from the driving maul meant US could clear their lines and suddenly Gains and Paddy Burnett had their work cut out deep in the Bognor half. Speedy hands from the US winger and full-back meant they scored after just a few phases in the corner.
Bognor duo Shane Stevens and Gains linked up, and after a few phases in the midfield led directly by Chris Webb, Aaron Cook and Joshua Burgess, Sweeney found space and broke the line, feeding Joshua Riggall who then hit Stevens flat.
The Bognor skipper beat his man then gave a sumptuous pass to Gains, who finished magnificently in the corner. Sweeney uncharacteristically went inches wide with the conversion so it was 5-5.
After the restart it was a struggle for the Green and Purples. US began to dominate in the scrum after the home side’s loose-head schooled Tom James.
Paul Mitchell continuing his fine lineout success ratio. US countered well in the midfield after a few ruck infringements from James and Barlow. The No8 crashed over from a scrum on the Bognor five-metre line and the away side really looked down and out, 12-5 down.
Before half-time Bognor defended well in their own half, Riggall creating opportunities with ball-stripping tackles and Chris Barlow linked up well with Castleton in defence, showing great experience in the ruck area.
The referee began to get frustrated with Bognor and forced the away side back with ping after ping. Eventually the US No9 dotted over with ease after a snipe from a ruck under the posts - 19-5.
Casim Ali was introduced for the inexperienced but talented Cook. Bidwell was replaced by Chris Clare. Burgess pushed into the back row and immediately looked cosy.
Clare made an immediate impact and Bognor began to switch things on after 65 minutes, something they need to address.
A monstrous hit from James in the midfield on the US Portsmouth No8 created a turnover and Webb cleared the ruck professionally. Quick ball ensued and Clare beat four men before being awarded a penalty try. It was 19-12 after a nice conversion.
The game grew in excitement, Toone was replaced by Gibbs and Bognor built phase after phase in the midfield and were gaining serious yards.
Burgess carried ferociously with Stevens and Webb. Sweeney made sure the ball was distributed clinically and Castleton showed great footwork to break a tackle and give Bognor a sniff.
Bognor couldn’t capitalise on some great attacking flare.
MoM Burgess was frustrated with the result but said: “We will bounce back.”
Bognor: Cook, Mitchell, James, Webb, Barlow, Bidwell, Knight, Castleton, Toone, Sweeney, Stevens, Riggall, Burgess, Burnett, Gains, Ali, Clare, Gibbs.