Hastings & Bexhill Rugby Club lost its grip on a play-off place following a 31-22 loss away to HSBC on Saturday.
H&B are now four points behind Cranbrook in the race for the Kent One runners-up spot - and with it a promotion play-off against the equivalent finishers in Sussex One - with one game remaining.
H&B started full of promise, yet HSBC kicked themselves into a 3-0 lead. Then one of the hosts’ pair of strong, effective centres broke through the middle, chipped over a defender’s head, and caught his own kick for an accomplished individual score under the posts, 10-0.
H&B attacked down the centre, forcing a penalty which Tom Waring kicked, 10-3. Good handling saw Calvin Crosby-Clarke over, Waring converting, to tie up the scores at 10-10 with a quarter of the game gone.
A penalty put HSBC 13-10 in front and when HSBC’s centres broke again from halfway, wrong-footing the defence, they put their full-back in for a try to extend their lead to 20-10. HSBC moved the ball wide and found space down the flank to go further ahead, 25-10 at half time.
It took H&B nearly 10 minutes of battering HSBC’s line to get their second try: Steve McManus stole the ball for Mark Piotrowski to drive over. With Waring’s conversion, H&B had narrowed the score to 25-17 with half an hour left, and looked to be starting to control the game.
HSBC kicked a penalty, though, to make it 28-17. A good catch and drive from an H&B lineout 10 metres out from HSBC’s line, and the ball was offloaded for Piotrowski to touch down, the conversion missed; at 28-22 behind and 20 minutes to go, H&B needed a converted try for a bonus point win.
An H&B maul was again held up on the line. HSBC then kicked a penalty, 31-22. H&B threw everything into forcing at the very least another score for a losing bonus point. But though they reached HSBC’s tryline several times, the hosts showed great resolve and held them out.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Rye Rugby Club won 10-0 away to bottom-of-the-table Lewes II in Sussex One. The result Rye moved up to seventh ahead of their final fixture.
See Friday’s Observers for full reports and reaction.