With the weather conditions set fair on a super Saturday afternoon near the Sussex coast, the near 600 spectators were engaged for a full eighty minutes, and those who missed the game will never know how tense the afternoon was.
In the end the outcome of the game was a win for the host club Chichester, but the overall winner was the game of rugby, played with passion and commitment by every player that took to the park to be a part of this epic fixture.
Under the supervision of a team of three match officials, with top referee Terry Hall in the middle and assisted by Stuart Goodwin and Paul Mitchell on the touch’s, nothing was being left to club officials to get wrong.
It wasn’t long before Chichester found they were on the wrong side of the penalty count as they transgressed five times in the first seven minutes with two of these within range for the league’s top goal kicker Miki Zanirato, and Gravesend were in an early 0-6 advantage.
A minute later and Richard Adams, who has had variable success from the boot this season missed the opportunity to reduce the deficit as his first kick of the day went wide of the mark.
The first quarter saw both the packs stamp their ambitions on the game, with no quarter given or taken as play was concentrated in the middle of the park.
Seventeen minutes on the clock and it was plain that the defences of both Chi and Gsss were going to be hard to break through, but a chip through from Matt Bressons saw the ball missed in the home centre, and the pace of Temi Okenla saw the full-back race through, gather on the bounce and chase for the line.
He attempted to go wide but was hauled down just a metre from the whitewash, at the ensuing breakdown, Robson was sent to the sin-bin for ten minutes, but this time Zanirato failed to convert the penalty to add to Gsss tally.
Chichester’s “coach”, who is not known to be a shrinking violet, was deemed to be taking too big a part from his escapades up and down the touch-line and instructed to “go back and stay in the technical area” or be told to leave the ground.
The result of this game was such an important part of Chi’s season, and if they lost it then their chance of gaining outright promotion would slip away, but Gsss on the other hand with a game in hand would have three more fixtures to climb back on top.
The penalty count was rising for the home side, while Gsss were demonstrating better discipline than has often been seen on a Saturday. Zanirato added a third successful kick to edge Gsss to 0-9 on twenty-two minutes.
This first half saw Gravesend gain the lions’ share of the possession, but even with seventy to eighty per cent of the game played in home territory they were unable to convert this into points. Even when Tom Goss looked to be clear up the left wing, Chi’s cover defence clicked in and he was forced to put a foot in touch.
Possibly the best score of the afternoon was Chichester’s first and demonstrated what a huge part has been played in their season by their strong forwards, as they gathered and drove over to score as Rob Lawrence placed the ball on the line. 5-9 and the conversion was again missed by Adams.
Gravesend were guilty of returning to their early season narrow attacking play, although this may have been forced on them by the quick blanket defence of the Chichester three-quarters, Meddings was sent on several charges but the gap was quickly closed, Cuttings and Klus found little room as they tried to get through. Perhaps Adam Aigbokhae looked the more likely to outwit his opposition as he twisted his way to the line, but Chi tightened up.
With some good recycled ball coming out from Zanirato as Ziggy, Bird, Newman and others crossed the gain line, chances were being created, Bressons had sold a couple of superb dummies, but then the occasion came again when the flat attack saw an interception by Tanner who ran a full seventy metres for Chichester’s second try.
With the speedy wing having run round close enough to the posts for Adams to add the points from the tee and with two minutes of the half remaining Chi held out for a 12-9 advantage at the break.
Chi were confident that despite their high penalty count, as long as they were out of kicking range it didn’t matter, as their defensive qualities would see them through. On the fifty minute mark they were caught off-side and Zanirato levelled the points.
Three minutes later and Gravesend’s Cutting was sent to the sin bin for ten minutes for pulling down the maul as Chichester launched an attack through the forwards, but it was Gsss defence that held string this time and drove their way out of the twenty-two and back on the front foot.
Just one minute latter and although now a man down, Gravesend took the ball past the home ten metre line despite the continued close attention of Jack Bentall, who had an outstanding game throughout, Zanirato got the ball away to Bressons making him time to send a huge well struck drop kick between the posts, 12-15.
The struggle in the forwards was tremendous and Chi were being well led by their number eight Moses Kasujja, and fortunately for Gsss, Aigbokhae, Stevens and Bird were equal to his breaks from the base of the scrummage. The same went for Goldie, Polhill, Dickin and Blount who did the same for the home XV.
So tight was this game that so few chances were allowed for either XV by the other, but on sixty-seven minutes a completely unnecessary seal off of the ball, saw Mr Hall not hesitate in awarding a penalty try and sending Gravesend’s Remus Necular to the bin.
This was a gift seven points, but the punishment fitted the crime and Chi were now holding the fort at 19-15.
Ten minutes of dominance by the Gravesend forwards at the set pieces, Meddings and Klus sent on storming runs but stopped short of the line.
A series of set scrummage on the five metre line and a sending to the sin bin of Chichester tight head Will Turner, but no penalty try coming for Gsss, perhaps the referee didn’t want to be the person who changed the outcome of the game at this late stage.
The determination of the home players kept Gsss out and left the field to celebrate their finest victory of the season.
Team: Okenla, Goss, Meddings C, Gray, Nolan, Bressons, Zanirato, Cuttings, Klus, Forsyth, Newman, Necular, Bird, Aigbokhae, Stevens Z, reps; Stevens, Comfort, Curley.