With Hastings & Bexhill Rugby Club seven places below opponents Old Dunstonians in London Three South East at kick-off, the home side knew they were in for a tough game.
However, after two hard midweek training sessions, described by the players as the best ever, H&B produced an inspired performance to only lose by a single score, 21-14, on Saturday.
With the wind at their backs in the first half, early H&B pressure went unrewarded and a turnover ball let the opposition work their way up the pitch. A certain try by ODs’ speedy wing was saved by a stumble, but a quick offload to number eight Brad Pugh gave ODs a converted score.
A try so early in the game could have seen H&B’s heads go down, but this didn’t happen. After ODs hit the post with a penalty, the first scrummage saw a massive change in H&B’s fortunes. They easily pushed their opponents off the ball. The atmosphere on the pitch immediately changed and the team grew in confidence.
A H&B penalty narrowly missed the posts, but the subsequent dropout was blocked and H&B pounced. Good defence by ODs kept H&B out until they were awarded a penalty try for a broken bind after a second scrum close to the line. The subsequent conversion tied the scores at 7-7.
There was no further scoring during the first half, but early in the second period H&B full-back Tom Waring was on the receiving end of a big hit by his opposite number and the ball fell neatly for pacey ODs winger Aaron Brown, who ran in from 60 metres out for a converted score.
There were no further scores until the last 10 minutes. The ball was knocked down by H&B winger Tim Sills, who picked up and with the defence flat-footed, ran in under the posts for a try converted by Waring, 14-14.
A scrappy ruck saw a flying boot from the ODs prop attempt to clear the ball. The referee saw it as contact with an H&B player and a red card was issued, putting the visitors down 10 14 men. With ODs’ replacement prop already injured, however, it meant uncontested scrums for the rest of the match and H&B’s most potent weapon was nullified.
The away team moved the ball wide and quick hands between the backs saw ODs winger Malachi Connolly step inside the last tackle to score a match-winning converted try under the posts.
This was a far better performance all-round and H&B will feel that a share of the points would better reflect the game. H&B’s defence was awesome throughout and the scrummaging was a real strength, repeatedly winning ball against the head and marching their opponents back time after time.
H&B: McDonough, Foord-Paton, McManus, Adams, Holewell, Sandeman, Stern, Piotrowski, Harbord, Steadman, Sills, Parry, Haddock, Campbell, Waring. Replacements (all used): West, Nichols, Crosby-Clarke.
Rye Rugby Club, meanwhile, suffered an 80-0 drubbing away to high-flying Burgess Hill in Sussex One. Rye are bottom of the table on the back of six successive defeats.