Chichester’s first long trip of the season ended in their fourth win from four and a three-point lead at the top of the table as they racked up a 34-10 victory at Dover.
The Blues were without Ben Polhill, Ross Fairbairn and Richard Adams, while Chris Johnson has now departed to university. But they welcomed back Moses Kasujja and Rob Lawrence to the forwards, and Lewis Joiner came in for his debut on the wing and Niall Goldie at No6.
Dover traditionally prove tough opponents and Chichester were asked to make first use of a strong wind and the significant slope at the Crabble ground.
Chichester started with purpose, Goldie putting in some massive hits. But the decisions were going against the Blues. The front row of Phil Veltom, Lawrence and Nick Shopland had the Dover trio in serious trouble only for the ref to penalise the Blues for what seemed harsh penalties.
The Blues slowly adjusted to the ref’s interpretation and started to win good front-foot ball with the forwards getting over the gain line.
Billy Toone, having a tremendous start to the season, caused the home side major problems with his sniping runs and released big Mancunian Martin O’Callaghan down the blindside. Showing good pace he cantered over from 20m out. Pearham beautifully slotted the extras.
Dover’s new No10 played the options well. The Blues were still conceding penalties but when Dover slotted one, Chichester responded with their own.
Two poor tackles gave Dover a chance to go deep into the Blues’ territory but scrambling defence stopped a score with Golds holding firm.
A scrum was awarded to the home side – the first of a few rubs of the green against Chichester. As the ball went straight out of the tunnel on the far side, the Dover No8 gleefully picked up the ball and with no call for another scrum set off for the line. A good pass later saw the hosts score under the posts for 10-10.
Chi were stunned but skipper Scott Barlow soon had his charges focusing. A great kick-off chase led to huge pressure on the Dover line and Pearham kept pegging the home side back with excellent tactical kicking.
A series of titanic scrums were held by a jubilant Dover No8. Soon the home side were desperate to hang and things boiled over with a series of aggressive exchanges as both sides went toe to toe – and one player from each side was sent to the bin.
Chichester needed to turn pressure into points and powerhouse Barlow seized the momentum to splinter through the Ds defence to score near the posts for a 17-10 lead. Then Lawrence smashed over but the ref was the wrong side and turned down claims for a score.
The Blues had to be smarter against the slope and determined opponents in the second half.
The experience of Lawrence, Kasujja and Barlow came to the fore as the Blues forwards started to take a stranglehold with a series of powerful drives.
Pearham again directed play with massive touch-finders to almost take the hill out of the equation. Chichester moved the ball well with Robson punching hard yards and Joiner, back from uni, going on a couple of strong runs.
Dover hung on but Pearham calmly slotted another three points.
Livewire Toone left the home defenders grasping at thin air as he went on a mesmeric run to take the game away from the home side with another try.
The Sharks kept the blue defence working hard but passes started to go to ground. The blue pack upped their intensity in search of the bonus try and looked to have scored another well-worked drive with Lawrence sniffing out the try line – but again the ref was unsighted and didn’t award it.
The Blues made one last surge and a great inside ball to Giddings, now on in the back row, saw the pacy hooker hit a great line to go over only to see the ball knocked from his hands at the death.
With the last play, the Blues No8 put on a massive drive to shunt the home side off their own ball.
Kasujja, who had played through the pain barrier, changed direction off the back to veer inside one tackle and bulldoze through the next to score the prized try. The conversion was added.
Director of rugby Paul Colley said: “It’s always a difficult place to get something, but this year we finally got the win. We have depth in our squad and although we had to work hard I think we fully deserved to beat a tough outfit.”
Man of the match was Niall Goldie.
This week the Blues take on unbeaten Sidcup at Oaklands Park (2.30) – all support welcome.
CHICHESTER: Shopland, Lawrence, Veltom, Barlow, O’Callaghan, Goldie, Lowe, Kasujja, Toone, Pearham, Walker, Robson, Knowles, Joiner, Golds. Reps: Wheeler, Giddings, Dickin.