In front of a large Oaklands Park crowd, Chichester RFC launched the new season with a Sussex derby win - beating Horsham 39-30.
The Blues had not met their newly promoted opponents for 15 years or more and it proved an open and entertaining contest.
Chi played very well in the first half and were 22-9 up at the interval. But they lost momentum and Horsham surged back.
The Chi defensive cover became ragged and they conceded three tries. With the score at 36-30, a final penalty in front of the posts clinched five league points and put big smiles on the faces of the home supporters.
There were debuts for Zac Conoly in the second row and Liam Rowland on the bench, with Ben Polhill starting his 23rd season in the first XV as blindside flanker. Ben Robson and Ben Deavall returned after lengthy absences with knee injuries.
Horsham kicked off up the slope and recovered the ball, but progress was slowed by the Chichester defence before an offside 30 metres out provided the visitors with their first points of the afternoon, making it 3-0 on two minutes.
Chichester contained several phases of Horsham attack before turning the ball over. An infringement provided Blues with a penalty kick from 35 metres but it drifted just wide in the wind. From the drop-out Chichester attacked down the slope with Charlie Wallace cutting through the visitors’ defence. The ball passed through several pairs of hands before Sam Renwick dotted down. Conversion missed.
Horsham pressed in the Blues half and another penalty was conceded in front of the posts gto give them a 6-5 lead.
Chichester upped the tempo and made several sorties into the opposition red zone before being repelled. Finally, a run from Renwick made 30 metres allowing the forwards to pick and go for the line, with Joe Woods crossing for the second try. Converted - 12-6.
Blues conceded another penalty 35 metres out which was stroked between the uprights.
Charlie Norton added three points with a drop goal from 25 metres, so it was 15-9. Chichester increased their lead further when a Horsham clearance was picked up by Norton and fed to Chris Johnson. The No8 charged through the opposition defence and offloaded to Rhys Thompson whose looping pass found Matt McLagan out wide to run it in and touch down in the corner. An excellent conversion from Norton gave Chi an interval lead of 22-9.
Inside nine minutes of the second half an infringement allowed Norton to kick for the corner. A well-worked lineout secured the ball and the pack drove forward and captain Wallace touched down for the bonus-point try, converted - 29-9 and victory seemingly secured.
Horsham hadn’t read the script and within ten minutes had cut through the Blues defensive line to score two tries, both converted by inside centre Johnson - 29-23 and 19 minutes left.
The referee produced a yellow card and the visitors were reduced to 14 men. Chichester used their numerical advantage and Chris Johnson bulldozed his way over the whitewash to score try number five and provide some breathing space. The conversion made it 36-23.
Horsham secured the ball and the left winger scythed through the Chichester defence to score. Once again, the ball was passed out to the lightning quick left winger who outpaced and outflanked the Blues’ defence for a certain try but put a foot into touch.
With a minute left Horsham conceded a penalty and Norton slotted it between the posts to secure victory and five points.
Both management teams will draw positives from this first match of the season. It was particularly encouraging to see Robson and Ben Deavall back playing rugby.
Supporters’ man of the match was Johnson.
Chichester: Drayson, Gingell, Woods, O’Callaghan, Conoly, Ben Polhill, Wallace (Capt.), Johnson, Goodwin, Baker, Robson, Thompson, Renwick, McLagan, Norton, Deavall, Spriggs ,Rowland.
* On Saturday Chichester make the short journey down the A27 to take on Havant (3pm).