Good display can’t shield the hurt for Bognor

Dan Harding surges through for Bognor's try against Hastings  Picture by Tommy McMillan
Dan Harding surges through for Bognor's try against Hastings Picture by Tommy McMillan

Bognor missed out on a place in the Sussex Shield final when they ended up agonising 11-10 losers at home to Hastings & Bexhill.

Having found themselves eight points down within the first quarter, Bognor fought back strongly to take the lead - only to fail at the final hurdle, the Hastings full-back managing to convert a crucial penalty which was, amazingly, the only score in the second half.

This was a breathtaking, physical encounter between two old foes: a typical cup game that had a bit of everything – pace, physicality, intensity, skill and a couple of yellow cards.

Referee Mark Packwood did his best to keep it flowing and keep the players on the field, and the result was a genuine spectacle enjoyed by both sets of supporters.

Hastings have had an excellent season, finishing second in Kent one, and they look set to be promoted to London south-east three via a play-off against Crawley. It was no surprise, therefore, that they arrived full of confidence.

Right from the kick-off, however, Bognor smashed into their opposite numbers who found themselves desperately trying to keep their line intact. The home team put together phase after phase through strong running and good ball retention. Hastings tackled superbly and eventually cleared their line by virtue of a penalty.

It was then the visitors’ turn to launch some attacks inside Bognor’s 22 and, after initially dropping the ball over the line, they made no mistake with their second opportunity, their pacy full-back scoring a good try.

Hastings began to take a grip and increased their lead through a 30m penalty. They continued to apply pressure and, after being held up over the line, they were virtually rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of the ensuing scrum.

The Bognor eight, though, had other ideas and their pressure, together with Jack Hornibrook’s speed and tenacity at the back of the scrum, allowed them to kick clear up to halfway.

This seemed to be the signal for Bognor to raise their game again and they were encouraged further when Lee Shergold was successful with a difficult 35m penalty into the breeze.

Josh Riggall and Shane Stevens created a great scoring opportunity on the right-hand touchline, only a split-second misunderstanding preventing a certain try.

Finally Bognor got their just reward when they scored a cracking try a few minutes before half-time. Centre Josh Burgess used all of his 18st to smash through the midfield defence and, when he was finally stopped, he found Hornibrook on his shoulder.

When he too was brought to ground, the move looked to have fizzled out - but an exquisite pop-pass to the supporting Dan Harding allowed the big flanker to run unopposed to the line and earn his side a half-time lead.

Both sides went at each other hammer and tongs throughout the second half and, as tempers boiled over, the Hastings second row accompanied Harding to the touchline to cool off.

Bognor had the best of the attacks – George Castleton tore through the middle on two separate occasions and the supporting wide players were inches away from touching down his chips to the corner. Riggall looked set to score after another great run but a superb cover tackle again prevented the home side from extending their lead.

Midway through the half the Hastings full-back capped a man-of-the-match performance by kicking a 40m penalty and nudging his team into a lead that, this time, they would not concede.

Bognor battled to the final whistle but Hastings showed great composure for the last five minutes to close the game down.

Bognor’s youngsters, though shattered at missing out on the final, can look back with great pride at the progress they have made during the course of the season under the tuition of head coach Steve Dove while he, stepping down for family reasons, can look back with quiet satisfaction at seeing so many players develop and mature during his tenure.

BOGNOR: Riggall, Clare, Castleton, Burgess, Stevens, Shergold, Hornibrook, Morgan, Broome, Angelov, Masters, Barlow, Harding, Brock, Tompkins. Reps: P Mitchell, N Mitchell, Howard, Lang, Parry, Satturley, Hunt.