Bognor produced a performance to be proud of – rocking the boat of league champions United Services but ultimately losing the Hampshire division-one top-of-the-table clash 49-21.
Despite leading until the hour mark, Bognor found US too strong for BRFC, which meant the visitors finished their season having not dropped a single point with 18 bonus-point wins from 18 games.
Bognor hobbled into the game with a raft of injuries and unavailability in the regular first XV squad. Former captains Lee Balchin and Rob Parry were drafted in and athletic prop Lee Thompson earned his season’s debut after a fine year with the colts.
A large crowd assembled with the healthy US support swelled by guests of BRFC’s main sponsor, 1st Choice Improvements, hoping Bognor could recover from the previous week’s defeat to Burgess Hill (shown in the Youtube video on this page).
Bognor knew a win would put them in a good position to secure second place and a promotion play-off.
The match started with ferocity and Bognor gained the first penalty; Adam Knight locked himself over the ball at the breakdown and referee Mark Packwood penalised US for holding on.
Nothing came from the resulting attack but US were rattled, prompting a response from the visitors. They hammered Bognor’s line with big runners but they were repelled with big hits from Balchin and Nathan Archer. Veteran Tom Watson earned a penalty to turn the ball over.
With the wind behind their backs, US came straight back and put Bognor under ten minutes of solid pressure. The home support roared on every tackle Bognor made. Rookie scrum-half Sam Newcombe enjoyed a composed afternoon and alleviated the pressure with some fine box-kicking.
US got no reward from their forays into Bognor’s 22 and, after a knock-on from a Newcombe clearance, Bognor got a chance to play with the ball in hand. With Thompson and Doug Lewis providing a good platform, Jack Tompkins picked up from the back of the scrum and generated quick ball. Rob Parry sent vice-captain Josh Burgess careering into the US midfield.
The ball was whipped out to the wing and into the hands of Watson, who belied his age with a great turn of speed to take his opposite man on the outside.
He found hooker Mark Ubsdell in support, he dazzled the cover defence with a delightful step before powering over the full-back. Watson ran a great support line and grabbed Ubsdell’s offload from the tackle to scamper over the line for a first try. Parry kissed the inside of the post with the conversion to put Bognor 7-0 up.
Bognor were invigorated; Chris Barlow dominated the ball from the kick-off and rampaged forward. Burgess and Balchin made hard yards before the ball was released to the backs. Nathan Archer chipped a kick over the US defence and the ball bounced neatly into his path. He hacked on again and out-sprinted the US full-back to score. Parry converted and Bognor went 14-0 up.
US picked up the kitchen sink and threw it at Bognor. Another ten minutes of pressure followed with Bognor chopping down the big US runners. The US half-back took a quick tap penalty only to be flattened by Balchin. Eventually, though, Bognor were broken by a clever running line from the US centre, who scored beneath the posts.
Bognor missed an opportunity to strike back after a Parry break but went in 14-7 ahead.
The second half started with the same intensity and Doug Lewis bounced into contact. From a lineout, Tompkins took clean ball and Newcombe fired a pass to Parry. The Welshman found Archer’s powerful running line with a pass and the versatile centre burst through.
Archer’s support was well covered by US so he put his head down and bolted for the corner. He powered over for his second try and Parry converted to put 21-7 up with an hour gone.
Those 60 minutes had shown exactly how far Bognor have come this season, under the guidance of coaches Outen and Broome. With more than 200 supporters watching, Bognor produced a fervent display to be proud of and came within 20 minutes of sinking the US ship.
Then, Services turned on the style and showed why they are champions.
Flanker and former Bognor resident Liam Geoghegan took matters into his own hands and made a clean break. The ball was recycled quickly and the US second row scored in the corner.
A further five converted tries followed form US who ran out deserved winners but with a scoreline that was harsh on Bognor. However Bognor can take pride in the loss coming not through lack of fight and spirit but from a season that has been ravaged by injuries to key individuals – more than 40 players have represented their first XV over the past six months.
This week, Bognor travel to Millbrook for their final game of the season. Bognor failed to grab a four-try bonus point so Millbrook sit securely in second place but BRFC will want to secure double victories over the Hampshire side, having edged a close encounter at home earlier in the season. All support is welcome for the 3pm kick-off.
BOGNOR: Thompson, Ubsdell, Lewis, Masters, C Barlow, Knight, Balchin, Tompkins, Newcombe, Parry, Clare, Burgess, N Archer, Watson, Hornibrook. Ali, Shergold, M Brock.