Chichester slipped to a 20-10 London one south defeat when they took the long trip to Thurrock on a wet day with a plethora of forced changes to the team who had beaten Gravesend the week before.
Most of the changes were down to unavailability but some of their injured players are slowly coming back into contention – Chris Johnson the powerful No8 making the trip and appearing on the bench following injury being a very positive sign.
Débuts were made by Fin Bamber at nine, Jack Green on the wing and Ed Hounsel at full-back. Bamber was one of four teenagers in the side and Chichester were grateful to Westbourne House School allowing the Colt time off from his duties to cover such a crucial position.
Delays en route meant preparation was not ideal but the Blues started extremely well, dominating the first 15 minutes. Excellent hands and a nice chip through from Ben Robson put the home team under pressure.
But the set-piece faltered at crucial times, with errors at both lineout and scrum in very good attacking positions meaning the period on top resulted in no points to the away side.
Thurrock slowly came back into the game as if sensing the Blues were not quite on their game. With some front-foot ball the black and whites slowly gained field position and after a series of good drives got the opening score, converted for a 7-0 lead.
After half an hour the Blues started to get back into the game. With Nick Blount dominating the lineout, big Jon Lindsay powered over from the back of a well worked drive and it was 7-5.
The Blues made occasional forays with Robson showing his recent excellent form with some barnstorming runs but try as they might they just could not finish any of the chances created.
The away side came out after the break knowing that if they could just execute the plays they could get a real foothold in the game. But disaster struck with fly-half Lynch yellow-carded very harshly for a for a marginal high tackle five minutes in.
Chi held on conceding only a pen that made it 10-5 but just as they were to go back up to 15 men, Chi countered attacked strongly.
The home side pushed way beyond the offside line but got away with it, forcing the attacking side to spill the ball out wide and from deep inside their own half Thurrock fly-hacked through.
The bounce favoured the men in black and white, bouncing up into the flying right winger’s hands. The despairing defence couldn’t get back – 17-5.
Chi had to really dig in and young Bamber made a couple of great tackles to stem the tide and the away side lifted the tempo – as soon as they got set-piece ball the blues looked dangerous with Robson, Sam Renwick and Toby Golds all going on good runs.
With 20 to go Johnson made his long-awaited return and immediately his power, along with Dec Johnson consistent carrying, started to turn the game the Blues’ way.
With ten minutes left Chris Johnson smashed through to get the Blues’ second score – 17-10.
It was game on – but crucially the home side gained a penalty which once slotted meant the Blues would have to score twice.
Chi pounded the line with a mixture of power and good hands, looking like they might snatch it – but the home defence threw everything at Chi and held on for a crucial victory.
Paul Colley, Blues director of rugby, said: “It was a long and tough day – we probably didn’t quite play to our level, but even with the changes we created some real opportunities. But it wasn’t our day.”
This week the first team take a well-needed break from league action before returning to Oaklands Park on February 17 versus Chobham.
Chichester: Prior, Arden-Brown, Drayson, Lindsay, Blount, Charlish, Wallace, Johnson D, Bamber, Lynch, Golds, Robson, Renwick, Green, Hounsel, Bentley, Johnson C, Margarson.