Bognor suffered a 17-14 home Hampshire premier defeat to Fareham Heathens in miserable playing conditions.
The two teams began trading blows and for the first ten minutes, little was gained by either team. Throughout this midfield battle an unlikely man at the base of the ruck, Paddy Burnett, found Chris Webb who demonstrated his versatility by kicking deep into Heathens territory and finding touch.
From the lineout, Shane Stevens stole the ball in the air and the foundation was set by the home pack. The driving maul allowed the backs to punish Fareham with a perfectly executed move finding Chris Hay to swerve through the defence and under the posts. Jeremy Newton Young added the extras.
Bognor continued to string positive phases together and Newton Young seized an opportunity to snipe around the fringes and score under the posts. He added the extras, taking his personal tally this season to 62.
At 14-0 it appeared the home team would go in at half-time with the upper hand. But a thunderous tackle from Lee Balchin saw him harshly penalised and on the receiving end of a yellow card. A yellow for Hay followed after a trip and it was not long before Heathens scored a try of their own.
The away team began to meet phase upon phase of resilient Bognor defence, led by Sam Newcombe, whose welcome return from injury found him slamming his opposite number into the ground.
The second half began with the experienced George Castleton introduced.
MoM Stevens, deep in his own half, opted to chip the ball over the defensive line and began to race down the wing only to be tripped by the opposition. It was unnoticed by the official and the game continued. Heathens cleared their lines and Billy Toone returned skipping through would-be tacklers with dazzling feet.
Composure in attack had the home team deep in the danger zone, but desperate defence from Heathens held them off.
Eventually, a positive lineout drive got Bognor over the try line, yet deemed to be held up. From the following passage of play, the opposition read a wide pass and intercepted, running the length of the field to level the score.
At 14-14 it became scrappy and the worsening weather conditions didn’t help.
Big collisions from Tom James, Castleton and co nullified the opposition’s attack but ill discipline in the home ranks enabled Heathens to apply pressure.
Failed penalty kick attempts were a let off for the home side but with Joe Benjamin’s offside offence resulting in a penalty, and Bognor’s third yellow of the game, Heathens slotted an unmissable kick. 17-14.
With great pressure from Freddy Burgess his opposite winger fumbled the ball from a kick with minutes to go. The Bognor pack reasserted their dominance and trundled over the Fareham pack, earning a penalty.
A quick tap was taken and Mike Matafwali, on for Newton Young, was darting through.
Bognor were desperate to finish with the score that would seal victory. Nathan Archer, carrying hard as usual and Darren Bidwell swatted defenders away and Bognor got within 20m of the try line but with a frantic attempt to attack wide, the ball was fumbled, collected by the opposition and kicked into touch.
Bognor now have time to reflect and prepare for their next outing, away to second-places Petersfield on December 7. This Saturday the Bognor Royals travel to Chineham while the threes host to Sussex Fire Service.
Bognor: Webb, Benjamin, James, Stevens, Bidwell, Bailey, Balchin, J Burgess, Toone, Newton Young, Burnett, Newcombe, Archer, F Burgess, Hay. Reps: Mason, Castleton, Matafwali.