Horsham climbed to fourth in London 2 South East having emerged victorious 25-20 in a pulsating local derby with Hove at Coolhurst on Saturday.
Despite Hove’s recent run of good form which has seen them rise to second where they remain after this defeat, it was Horsham who were more up for the fight. Indeed the Green and Whites appear to be somewhat of a bogey team for Hove, having won six of their last seven league and cup encounters since they joined battle three years ago after Horsham were promoted from London 3 South East at the same time as Hove were relegated from London 1 South, with the hosts having played in lower leagues for most of the previous 20 years.
Hove were riding on the back of a fine win over promotion candidates Charlton Park, whereas the Green and Whites had suffered two successive defeats hampered by injury and unavailability, and the visitors arrived as favourites expecting to overturn their hoodoo against Horsham. They were however not helped by a serious injury to talismanic captain Sam Whiting with a suspected broken leg during the second half as Hove attempted to mount a fightback.
There was an element of both sides sparring with each other in the early stages with Hove having more possession and Horsham absorbing the pressure then from a loose kick return, Mike Watts went on a stepping run and carved open the visitors defence and then passed to Joe Wilde who beat his man and went over under the posts converting his own try. 7-0.
Horsham dropped the ball when receiving the kick-off leading to a Hove scrum on the 22, but with the visitor’s intent on levelling the scores their attack petered out with a knock on. Both sides were trying to move the ball wide at every opportunity. Tom Blewitt made a clever chip over the onrushing defence but Sam Whiting sensed the danger and cleared up with the speedily following up Declan Nwachukwu shepherding him into touch. Fly-half Jordan Bell was pinning Hove back with intelligent kicks into the corners but there was a feeling from their supporters that Horsham were at times playing too fast and loose. Wilde slotted another penalty as Horsham kept the scoreboard ticking over. 10-0.
Jordan Smith made a great run through several tackles, but then Hove showed what they could do given the chance when centre Martin Macdonald made a surging break to slice open the home defence but his pass was dropped. The game was open and end to end. Watts and Wilde combined in attack leading to hopes of another score which was ended with a turnover and Sam Whiting countered always looking a threat when he entered the line from full-back. Jordan Bell caused panic in the Hove defence with a kick which was followed up by the pacey Nwachukwu forcing a knock-on from the visitors. Hove then conceded a scrum penalty which was confidently kicked by Wilde 13-0.
Hove then started to up their game. Ex Worthing Raiders player, Nick Paddenburg on the left wing was pulled back for a foot in touch after a strong run. Horsham skipper Rich Tredgett secured important possession from the line-out but when Horsham conceded a penalty Hove went seeking a try and kicked for the corner. The hosts battled to defend their line with multiple pick-ups from the back of the scrum by Number 8 Jonny Whiting to relieve the pressure on his scrum-half Josh Mills. The game then saw a significant change in fortunes following a yellow card to Horsham’s open side flanker, Jake Lowe, following a tip tackle. Hove clinically took advantage of the extra space available by scoring 17 unanswered points in the final six minutes of the first half to take the lead. Horsham will have known from previous encounters that Hove’s backs have the subtlety to hurt the very best defences in tight areas. Carles Casanova took the three points on offer following the sin bin offence. By now Hove had a slight ascendancy in the scrums and Sam Whiting made a great line break to put Macdonald in for his first try and then minutes later fly-half Phil Dugard sliced open the Horsham defence to put Macdonald in for his second. Both tries were converted by Casanova and those home supporters who had gone to the bar a few minutes before half time to avoid the queue seeing their team lead 13-0 were soon stunned to learn that at the break Horsham were losing 13-17.
Horsham had a chance to narrow the deficit in the first minute of the second half but Wilde missed his kick from in front of the posts. The Green and Whites however had upped their tempo. Watts took a quick tap but slipped before he could take advantage of a disorganised Hove defence, then it was the visitors turn to play for ten minutes a man short when Paddenburg was sin binned for a high tackle. Horsham capitalised when winger Dave Barber fielded a missed touch from Casanova to find Watts who turned on the afterburners and ran through the heart of the Hove defence from 45 yards out for a magnificent solo try which was converted by Wilde and Horsham regained the lead. 20-17.
Minutes later Nwachukwu was given the chance to stretch his legs and out-pace the defence, Sam Whiting fell awkwardly in making the tackle, as the ball was offloaded to Blewitt to hold off the chasing tacklers and score his most important try yet for Horsham. 25-17.
Hove lost much of their cutting edge in the absence of Sam Whiting, although when Horsham’s Nick Bell was yellow carded for a tip tackle there was always the memory from the first half of the potent attacking threat the visitors offer against an undermanned defence and their ability to score from nowhere, but this time there was more resilience and organisation to the home side’s defending. The game continued to ebb and flow. Hove second row Ian Saunders had a storming run that almost led to a try, Wilde then carved open the visitors, before Macdonald made another powerful charge before being held up in the tackle over the line by Nwachukwu. When Horsham conceded a penalty in front of the posts in the final minute, Casanova took the three points on offer so the visitors could leave with a losing bonus point. Final score 25-20.
A delighted Horsham coach Nick Stocker reflected after the game: “A great advert for community rugby. Two committed sides with both sides playing expansive Rugby. On the whole I think we controlled the game more effectively than Hove and apart from a 10 minute spell before half time, we limited Hove’s potent attack and imposed ourselves more effectively on the game.
We did not get the rub of the green with the scrummage where some interpretations of the props body positions were dubious but despite this, we secured a solid stream of possession today allowing our backs to look dangerous in attack. In particular as a coaching set up we were pleased with the way the team attacked the space, even if that meant doing so from deep
Defensively we were much better. Line speed, structure and aggression was all present and allowed us to close out the game well in the last 15 minutes.
Whilst there were a number of notable performances across the squad, I want to single out Rich Tredgett - particularly with his control at Lineout, Declan Nwachukwu and Tom Blewitt for great games. Man of the Match was however shared between two players today, Jordan Smith for his work rate and ball carrying and Mike Watts who was a real threat every time he got the ball.
On a final note, I want to wish Sam Whiting a speedy recovery from his nasty looking injury. He is a fantastic player and a real threat in Hove’s back line. A player of that quality will be missed in every team and will also be a loss to everyone who has had the opportunity to watch him in full flight. We all wish him well.”
Next week Horsham face Crowborough at home in the Bob Rogers Cup.
Horsham: Watts; Nwachukwu, Blewitt, Wilde, Barber (Steggles); Bell J, Mills; Fairs, Fisher, Bell N; Goward, Tredgett R (capt); Smith (Brady), Lowe, Whiting