Hastings & Bexhill Rugby Club produced a stunning comeback to salvage a draw in its opening league game of the new season.
H&B came from 12 points down in the last five minutes to snatch a hard-fought, but well-earned 26-26 draw away to Park House in London Three South East on Saturday.
The benefits of summer training under the new coach pairing of Ben Davies and Kit Claughton were certainly on display.
H&B travelled to Park House with a strong squad, showing several changes from last season. Chris Geary and Connor Shaw made first XV debuts, with Max Foord-Paton, Roger Roberts and Jake Stinson making welcome returns after long lay-offs.
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Having resisted Park House’s opening onslaught, H&B took an 11th minute lead with a well-taken try from full-back Ryan Foord, which was converted by Tom Waring.
Dominic Sewell sustained a cut eye and was replaced by Roberts while he received treatment, and Park House levelled the scores before taking a seven-point lead with a well-worked try.
The home side had an excellent fly-half, whose long kick, assisted by the wind, was making the H&B forwards work very hard.
Stinson came on for Foord, who had a dead leg, and immediately made a positive impact, scoring a try for Waring to convert. Waring broke through the home defence and put winger Stinson away to equalise at 14-14 just before half time.
Roberts came on at wing forward and McManus returned to the front row at half time.
The second half continued in much the same vein: crunching tackles, long kicks and pressure from the home side, who took a 26-14 lead with two well-executed tries from open play.
The H&B coaches rotated their players well and gave several key men well-earned breathers during the second half.
Even though they were behind, H&B were not beaten. Waring benefited from some excellent handling through the backs to cross the whitewash for an unconverted try, 26-19.
As the players returned to the centre for the restart, the referee indicated this would be the last play of the game, so possession without a mistake was vital.
Roger Roberts capped a fine performance with a 20-metre break through the Park House defence and passed inside to Fraser McManus, who bundled his way over the line. Waring stepped up to slot the equalising conversion with ease.
H&B earned two points for the draw, plus a bonus point for scoring four tries, against a team which beat them 33-17 in April so this was a great result.
H&B: Geary, Umpleby (c), S. McManus, Crosby-Clarke, Sewell, Foord-Paton, James, F. McManus, Shaw, Suggitt, Campbell, Ackerley, Waring, Sills, Foord. Replacements: Vincent, Roberts, Stinson.
H&B will entertain Folkestone at Ark William Parker Academy this coming Saturday, kick-off 3pm. Folkestone were edged out 23-22 at home to newly-promoted Vigo in their opening game.
If the opening weekend is anything to go by, it could be a competitive division this term. Five of the six games were decided by six points or less and the other by 12 points.