A hard-fought 20-15 victory at Alresford, in perfect conditions and deep in the Hampshire countryside, consolidated Bognor’s third place in the Hampshire Premier and means that there is still plenty to play for this season.
The result means Bognor are still nine points behind Sandown & Shanklin, but the Isle of Wight side face table-toppers Basingstoke next Saturday as well as still having to visit Hampshire Avenue, so the battle for second place is very much alive.
Despite a three-week festive lay-off Bognor began strongly and put together phase after phase deep inside the home 22. Alresford defended well to keep their line intact, helped by some rusty handling from the visitors’ backs.
The first scrum of the match served as a reminder of the problems Bognor encountered back in September as the home pack shoved them backwards with ease.
Skipper Josh Burgess was carrying well, and Shane Stevens almost scored from his own chip ahead, but it was 20 minutes before Bognor broke the deadlock. Alresford won a scrum inside their own 22 but, when their No8 picked up to drive into the Bognor backs, the ball was turned over and quick hands allowed Paddy Burnett to score in the left corner.
Alresford fought back and began to dominate the scrums as well as making huge inroads from driving lineouts. The under-pressure visitors were penalised several times and Alresford were successful with the second of two kickable penalties to reduce the half-time deficit to just two points.
Five minutes into the second half Alresford broke out from near their own line, chipping and fly-hacking their way downfield to score a fine opportunist try. The successful conversion meant the home side were on target for a shock win. Their defence was still holding firm and it was not difficult to understand why, although they have lost eight times this season, six of those losses were by fewer than ten points.
Sam Newcombe began to put his power and pace to good use and, after one searing break by the centre, Burgess touched down, only for the referee to judge, correctly, he had made a double movement and that the try should be disallowed.
Midway through the half Bognor managed to stabilise the scrum to good effect and the ball went through the hands for Stevens to touch down in the right corner. The conversion was missed so, with 20 minutes to go, the match was all square.
A few minutes later Dave Sweeney pressurised the home backs into a handling error and the wily centre pounced on the loose ball to put Burnett over for his second try. Ten minutes from the end Burgess picked up from a scrum 40m out and powered over for a great bonus-point try without a hand being laid on him.
At this point the game looked over, but the home side had other ideas and their big forwards began at last to ignore their error-strewn backs and concentrate on taking it on themselves. Adam Knight put in tackle after tackle for which he deservedly won the man-of-the-match accolade. He was closely supported by the returning Pat Gains who did a remarkable job playing out of position in the back row.
In the dying seconds Bognor’s defence finally cracked and Alresford were rewarded for an afternoon of dominance at the scrum by scoring a pushover try.
This Saturday Bognor travel to Gosport for a 2pm kick-off.
Bognor: Robson, Burnett, Newcombe, Sweeney, Stevens, Power, Hornibrook, Webb, Groome, Cox, Barlow, Orchard, Knight, Burgess(Capt), Gains. Replacements: Stubbs, Bailey, Hay