Bognor emerged as 17-14 victors over Millbrook to leapfrog their fellow promotion hopefuls and finish the first round of Hampshire League first-division fixtures in second place – despite a raft of injuries to first XV players.
Bognor were without a host of regulars and former first XV coach and captain Karl Flinn returned at No8, Nathan Archer reverted to open-side flanker and Jack Hornibrook returned to the side after a lengthy lay-off.
Bognor forced a turnover immediately and saw swashbuckling carries came from Mark Ubsdell and Luke Calleja, despite both struggling with knee injuries.
The pressure earned Bognor a penalty in front of the posts and in his first appearance as skipper, Josh Burgess elected to kick for goal. Ben Archer duly took the three points.
Millbrook showed renewed optimism. A blunder from Hornibrook and Mitch Brock gave them a scrum on Bognor’s 22m line. The Millbrook fly-half gave a clever inside pass to his winger butBrock atoned for his error with an excellent last-ditch tackle. Quick short phases from the Millbrook pack eventually saw their flanker go over for a converted try.
An injury to Bulgarian stalwart Venci Angelov forced his withdrawal. Ryan Langridge came on.
The coaches issued instructions for Bognor to gain field position and keep the ball in hand in opposition territory. Bognor took heed with Sam Newcombe and Ben Archer firing kicks to the Millbrook back three. Hornibrook put in some superb tackles on his opposite number.
From a penalty Bognor went to the corner. Jacob Masters and Ubsdell ran their lineout with aplomb in the first half and Masters soared to take a clean catch at the tail.
Quick ball saw the rambunctious Burgess smash through three defenders, leaving the Millbrook defence jumbled. Nathan Archer surged through a gap and showed all his basketball skills to flick an offload out to the supporting Mike Page, who powered over the final defender to score. Ben Archer converted.
Ben Archer fired another kick to the Millbrook full-back and former discus thrower Stevens hared after the ball forcing the Brook 15 into a mistake. Support for the speedster came through and a knock-on was forced, to the delight of the large home crowd.
Bognor battered the Millbrook defence with wave after wave of attack. Short phases gave Mike Page an opportunity that he grasped with both hands, powering over again for his second try of the game. Archer converted.
Millbrook missed another kickable penalty to leave the half-time score 17-7.
The second half saw a far more laboured approach from Bognor. They continued to defend valiantly but their lineout and scrum began to falter. In the Millbrook half, Bognor were nowhere near clinical enough.
For most of the half Millbrook attacked, occasionally repelled by clearance kicks from Ben Archer, Sam Newcombe and Brock. But Bognor’s defence again held firm, their approach epitomised by the outstanding Nathan Archer.
Eventually Millbrook camped themselves in the Bognor 22 in front of the home crowd. Brook attempted to maul over the line with Flinn and Page putting themselves in harm’s way.
Millbrook looked to attack Bognor’s ailing scrum and got their reward. Page was sin-binned for an infringement and Brock moved from full-back to take up the vacant flanker’s berth and immediately saved a try by holding up the Millbrook No8 after another scrum.
The heat of the battle got the better of Hornibrook as he threw his opposite number to the floor and saw yellow. With 13 men left, the Bognor scrum eventually conceded and the referee awarded a penalty try, converted quickly to leave the score at 17-14 with a minute left.
Excellent organisation in defence forced a knock on from Millbrook and the game was won.
Bognor are at Petersfield this weekend and all support is welcome for the 2.15 kick-off.
BOGNOR: Calleja, Ubsdell, Angelov, J Barlow, Masters, Page, N Archer, Flinn, Newcombe, B Archer, Burgess, Watson, Stevens, Hornibrook, M Brock, Langridge, Satturley, Riggall.