After two intense disappointments, Chichester sent their supporters home reasonably happy for Christmas with a hard-earned bonus-point 24-18 win over their local rivals Havant in London one south.
The weather was awful and both teams did surprisingly well in the mud, wind and rain - and the Blues had to fight back very hard in the second half to clinch the points.
Havant had been on top playing with benefit of the elements but Chi’s forwards took control and added three tries after the break. The final margin was four tries and two conversions to two tries, two penalties and a conversion. It secured a first double of the season against tough opponents who had been in good form for a month.
Chi are four points behind leaders Gravesend and six ahead of third-placed Brighton. They face the remaining 12 games knowing they must not slip up - but seven are away from home.
Jack Walker replaced the injured Billy Toone while Ben Polhill, Tim Cook, Sam Renwick and Joe Woods returned to the squad.
An early hack through put Chi on the attack but it was turned over and Havant went along the right wing to win a penalty. Across went the ball for lock Neil to breach a flimsy defence and score the first try. The conversion was put away by Knight.
The visitors were awarded a penalty at a ruck which Knight slotted easily after just ten minutes. They pressed again until Henry Anscombe cleared with a long kick.
Chi woke up and advanced with a series of driving mauls which pinned Havant in their 22. Tom Polhill broke through the centre to set up prime position but Chi knocked on at a lineout and were also turned over at a ruck.
Havant finally cracked when the ball was spun left and then right for Renwick to step neatly inside and pass to Jon Lindsay to dive over. The conversion hit the outside of the upright to leave the Blues 10-5 down.
Havant continued to threaten with the wind behind them and Chi were wasting chances, including a missed penalty in front of the posts. There was some frolicking in the mud which browned both hard-working packs before the referee allowed them respite at the interval.
It had been a worrying 40 minutes for Chi but Havant should have put more points on the board when things were in their favour.
Woods came on to steady the ship at tight-head prop and the Blues announced their intent as the rain started to fall again. From lineout and drive, Walker made ground and slipped the ball to No8 Moses Kasujja, who was unstoppable from five metres out.
Driscoll converted confidently and Chi were briefly ahead. Chris Johnson ran on to add muscle to the back row of a pack which was revving up to do the business. However, Havant countered and Knight kicked his second penalty for a 13-12 lead.
Anscombe found his range and bombed Vultures’ Corner. A Havant flanker handled in the ruck to prevent a drive over the line and Will Turner gave him a sharp pain for his sin, both players being dismissed for ten minutes.
Chi were in charge in the scrums and Phil Dickin was catching the greasy ball in lineouts, but Chi needed to make it count. Driscoll was forced out and a crooked feed at the scrum lost a chance at a five-metre scrum.
Eventually a penalty, lineout and 25m driving maul put Woods across at the bottom of a pile of bodies. Driscoll converted.
There followed a big shock when a high kick was caught well by the Havant full-back, who launched an excellent attack by the backs who handled slickly and drew the last defence, ex-Bognor captain Sweeney touching down at the left corner.
Against the cross-wind and from the touchline the conversion was too difficult, but it was only 19-18 and still all to play for.
Back at their favourite corner, Chi disrupted a Havant scrum and Johnson finished off a well-controlled surge over the line for the bonus-point fourth try. The conversion was narrowly missed.
A pass was too high from a ruck and Chi had to scramble as the Hampshire team sensed a converted try to win the game was still possible.
Chi’s driving maul resembled a fast-moving armoured carrier as it drove 50 metres, almost running over the top of the Havant pack, which completely buckled.
Havant had a last attempt in the Chi 22, moving dangerously with some recycling but Chi cleared their lines from a penalty kick. There was huge pressure by Chi for the last five minutes as they hammered the heroic Havant defence, by now desperate but still resisting.
Tom Belcher was sure he had scored his 11th try of the season from the last big shunt but the referee ruled it was held up by someone below ground and covered in mud. Both teams had given all they had and left the pitch to well-deserved applause after a rousing contest.
On Saturday, January 4, Chi face another challenge at Hove, who are difficult to beat on their own pitch. Kick-off is 2.15pm and all support is welcome - there’s room on the team coach.
CHICHESTER: Turner, Gingell, Belcher, Lindsay, Dickin, Goldie, B Polhill, Kasujja, Walker, Anscombe, Jackson, T Polhill, Renwick, Driscoll, Cook, Woods, Johnson, Harte.