Horsham encountered an intensity from Chichester seldom faced last season in London 2 South East and now know the level to which they will need to perform every week. Despite their ten-match winning run in the league, stretching back to December, coming to an end the Green and Whites will take away plenty of positives from the game, notably recovering from a 20 point deficit, to rattle the hosts. Indeed Horsham would have taken the lead through Declan Nwachukwu with just minutes remaining but to be hauled back for a foot in touch.
Tom Johnson in a flawless kicking display slotted an early penalty before Horsham conceded a try wide right from quick phase play, having been too slow to re-align at the ruck and giving away possession cheaply. Johnson scored a second penalty awarded after a good carry by Jamie Redmayne but Chichester countered with their second try following a break in the centres and recycled through several phases of pick and go which was well converted to lead 12-6 after 18 minutes.
Johnson pegged back the lead with another penalty before Chichester maintained their nine-point winning margin with a drop goal. Horsham conceded a third try following poor ball retention 10 metres from their try line and a subsequent poor clearance kick which saw the hosts counter attack and score out wide as the Green and Whites went into the break 22-9 down.
At the restart Horsham conceded a further try. After poorly receiving the kick-off a penalty was conceded and kicked to the corner following which Chichester scored from the driving maul to lead 29-9 with the game seemingly over.
The entry of Vince Everitt and Nick Bell to the fray added extra life and impetus to Horsham’s play and the comeback started following a run and kick through from Johnson which was well chased and Everitt was on hand to score an opportunist try. Joe Wilde then added a further try following a devastating break by Nwachukwu from a kick return to narrow the deficit to 29-23 after 60 minutes.
Chichester scored a converted try and Finlay Hillicks was yellow carded then Jonny Goward made a great carry before Wilde scythed through the gap to set up Nwachukwu to score converted by Johnson. 36-30 with ten minutes remaining.
It looked to Horsham supporters as if Nwachukwu had sealed an unlikely comeback when he appeared to have outflanked the Chichester defence with another searing break but for a foot in touch and then the hosts kicked a penalty on the stroke of full time so that the visitors came away from their visit to the south coast with nothing.
Horsham head coach Nick Stocker reflected after the game: “Although a disappointing result, both from the loss and the lack of any bonus points, we are certainly focusing on the positives from a closely fought game with a good degree of fight demonstrated by all players taking the field.
Our set piece went well both at scrum and lineout and when we finally got into our patterns, we created several opportunities which on another day would have seen a different outcome. The problem however was a relatively slow start and gifting possession to a well drilled side in dangerous field positions which lead to several scores against and a considerable half time deficit.
Our usual fluidity in the backs was lacking today, both in attack and defence. However, when the players settled and we started to move the ball with more precision in the last 20 minutes, we had Chichester worried with the potential of an upset on the cards.
Notable performances came from Jamie Redmayne who lead the team well, supported by the strong carries of Finn Hillicks and Jonny Whiting along with Ciaran Preston on his league debut. With Aaron Linfield having a busy day and Declan Nwachukwu occupying the defence throughout, together with solid contributions from all replacements, our man of the match went to Tom Johnson who’s flawless kicking display kept us in touch when Chichester sought to pull away backing that up by a strong defensive display alongside his usual classy play in attack.
Our team will learn quickly from this first game and look to bounce back with a win at home over Beckenham who suffered their own tough start following promotion last year.”
Horsham: Watts; Nwachukwu, Wilde, Johnson, Condon; Bell J, Linfield; Cass, Preston, Fairs (Bell N); Whiting (Goward), Osgood; Redmayne (capt), Smith (Everitt), Hillicks