Chichester produced a very encouraging team performance in London one south against unbeaten league leaders Westcombe Park, who are ambitious for promotion. But it ended 34-26 to the visitors.
The Blues gained a losing bonus point for scoring four tries, and their opponents’ smallest winning margin previously had been 16 points. The Blues had conceded three tries in the first half when the defence was beaten by some incisive runners, but they hit back strongly and had the better of the second 40 minutes.
Chichester made six changes. Martin O’Callaghan, Zac Conoly and Ben Polhill came into the pack, Matt McLagan returned in the backs with Dane Gingell and Will Norton on the bench.
Westcombe kicked off up the slope. It took 22 minutes to get the first score on the board when a steal from a Combe lineout was recovered and run in by their hooker from 22 metres. It was converted for 7-0.
Until that point neither team looked comfortable and play was punctuated with a succession of handling errors, penalties and the visitors’ misfiring lineout. Combe increased their lead with further tries after 29 and 34 minutes with well-timed runs from the full-back and scrum-half breaching the Blues’ defence to make it 0-19.
With five minutes of sustained pressure in the Coombe red zone, Harry Seaman caught the visitors’ defence napping as he darted through the defence from eight metres out, momentum carrying him and two defenders over the line. It was converted by Elliot Haydon to make the score 19-7.
After a scrappy start to the second half Chichester won their lineout on halfway and advanced the ball nearly 25 metres with a driving maul.
A series of pick and goes moved the ball to the 5m line. Seaman passed to Shaun Baker who delicately chipped the ball over the Coombe defence for Rhys Thompson to run through and ground the ball next to the posts. Converted by Haydon.
The visitors won a penalty which was kicked to the corner. From the lineout a looping pass created an overlap for a try in the corner. Conversion missed - 24-14.
Over the next ten minutes the intensity of Chichester’s play increased and another driving maul delivered the ball to the opposition 22m line. A delightful interchange between Charlie Wallace, Dane Gingell and Baker advanced play to the 5m line and Ben Deavall stretched over the line to dot down. Conversion missed, 19-24.
Blues found themselves defending on their 22m line for several minutes until an infringement provided the visitors with the opportunity to increase the lead with a penalty in front of the posts, 19-27.
Clearance kicks were exchanged and an awkward bounce momentarily caught out the Coombe winger, deep in his own half. He recovered, collected the ball and hit the afterburners down the touchline. But Sam Drayson had other ideas taking him into to touch on the halfway line with a perfectly timed tackle, to the enjoyment of the Chichester faithful.
With six minutes left the visitors crossed the whitewash for their fifth try and the conversion made it 34-19. With less than two minutes left, Coombe conceded a penalty on their 5m line. A quick penalty from Thompson was stopped just short and a series of pick and goes set up the ball for Gingell to cross the line, supported by Wallace and Ben Polhill, for a well-deserved bonus point try.
There was relief for the Coombe fans when the referee blew for full-time.
MoM was Harry Seaman.
Chichester: Drayson, Cameron, Deavall, O’Callaghan, Conoly, B. Polhill, Wallace (Capt.), Spriggs, Seaman, Baker, Blewitt, Thompson, Renwick, McLagan, Haydon, W. Norton, Gingell, Trodd.
On Saturday Chichester welcome promoted Beckenham to Oaklands Park (3pm).