Match Report by Tony Lewis
Last Sunday the scene was set perfectly for the final match of the 2016/17 Sussex Cols Premier League season between Horsham and Chichester. Horsham went into the game top of the league with Chichester in a close second and these were the only two unbeaten teams in the league. The weather was perfect and a crowd estimated at 300 were in attendance at Coolhurst to observe proceedings.
The large crowd was not to be let down in any way by the two teams. Both sides were clearly pumped up for the fixture and it is fair to say that Chichester started the strongest. They reclaimed the opening kick-off and proceeded to lay siege to the Horsham line. After five minutes of constant pressure the power of the Chichester forwards led to them crossing the line for the first try. The conversion was missed but Chichester had laid down an early marker by taking a 5-0 lead.
Horsham responded to this early set back in the best possible way. Whilst Chichester as a whole were a bigger side with some powerful ball carriers, they were more than matched by Horsham’s pace and precision. Direct running from the backs with good support play led to an equalising try from Charlie Best. The try was scored in the corner but this did not stop fly-half Joe Blake from slotting the conversion. Shortly afterwards more good direct running from the Horsham backs led to a break from Alfie Burchfield which took him close to the Chichester try line. A last gasp tackle led to Alfie offloading inside to the supporting Max Patterson who crossed the line. Again, Blake converted.
The Horsham forwards had now come to terms with the power of the Chichester forwards and were using their superior pace to reach the breakdown first and were able to produce quality ball for the back division to utilise. This led to further incursions by the Horsham backs and following a fine support line flanker Eddie Grogan crossed the Horsham’s third try. This was converted. In the closing minutes of the first half quick hands from Horsham set Best free on the right wing. He carried the ball deep into Chichester territory and then slid a clever kick to the inside. This was gathered just sort of the line by centre Matt Allen who plunged over to score. Once again Blake’s conversion was successful, meaning the half time score was Horsham 28 – 5 Chichester.
The Horsham coaching staff were keen to impress upon their players during the half time break that the game was far from over. Chichester were clearly a very dangerous side and we needed to start again as though the game was level.
To their credit this is exactly what Horsham did. Within two minutes of the restart Horsham were awarded a penalty some forty yards out. Skipper Ollie Lewis had no hesitation in asking Blake to step up and he duly slotted over his fifth kick out of five. This was particularly commendable on Horsham’s part as just before half time winger Max Patterson had been sent to the sin bin by the referee following a series of penalties that Horsham had conceded.
Chichester would not lie down and they came back very strongly into the game. Their big forwards continued to make hard yards around the side of the rucks and their two large centres bashed up the middle of the park as frequently as they could. Chichester did not get a great amount of joy from this tactic as the Horsham centres, Allen and Burchfield were tackling everything that came near them. They were ably supported by a ferocious performance from Horsham number 8, Vince Everett.
Chichester continued to score tries at regular intervals but every time they did Horsham responded in kind. Horsham’s first try of the second half came following a fine break by Best when he was pulled down just short of the try line. Scrum half Aaron Lindfield spun the ball right and quick hands from Lewis led to Blake himself going over in the corner.
Every time that Chichester thought they had a foothold in the game by scoring further tries Horsham would go down the other end and chalk up another try themselves. Horsham were in fact to score three further tries during the second half, Blake was to add a second to his tally and there were two further superb long range tries from Burchfield and Patterson. Joe Blake ended the day with a personal points haul of 23 points.
With three minutes to go Chichester were to score their final try and following a successful conversion the gap was down to fourteen points. Horsham had by now utilised most of their bench and there were strong performances put in by Callum Robison in the second row and Harry Slade in the back row.
The final whistle went which sparked jubilant celebrations from the Horsham players, coaching staff and supporters. The game had been played at breakneck speed with immense ferocity but in a truly great spirit by both sides.
The entire Horsham squad stood up to a man and played their hearts out. Head Coach Tony Jones was clearly delighted:-
“I could not be a prouder man. It has been a long hard season but week after week the whole squad of thirty-two lads have turned up for training and then turned out for games. We have won all of our league games and I am not sure when this was last done by a Horsham Colts side. I am immensely proud of my team and my coaching staff for this truly great achievement. We are setting off on Friday morning for our tour of Antwerp and we have plenty to celebrate!”