For the second week running Westcombe Park had to front up in the second half to a fired up opposition. As it was with Thurrock at Goddington Dene, Chichester came out for the second period determined to give their all against the league leaders. Combe nerves twanged when Chi got to within 5 points with 25 minutes left to play. The homeside played to their strengths up front and, with Chichester scrum half man of the match box kicking to great effect, the visitors had to dig deep.
The first quarter of the match saw both sides testing each other out, scrums were pretty even but Combe's lineout wasn't at its slickest. If Westcombe Park did have an advantage it was the threat posed in the backs and an Esiri run from his own half underlined this edge. Combe were dominating territory as Chichester were held back by Combe defensive resilience. The first score had an element of luck. A Combe lineout went awry at the front but the ball ricocheted into hooker Manny Effion's arms. He thundered into the 22 bouncing off defenders and then,with a sidestep which betrayed his earlier career as a winger, plunged over by the posts. Matt Harrison added the conversion.
Bradley Bateup was next to show his dancing skills which for a fullback is more excusable. Chi were penalised at a scrum in their own 22 and a quick tap penalty was taken by Piers Johnson who fed Bateup on the burst. He weaved past 5 defenders to score a cracking try which Harrison converted to give the visitors a 14-0 lead.
Combe extended their lead just past the half hour. Lock Joe Craig intercepted in midfield and made some good ground. Johnson acted as the link feeding scrum half Lewis Headland who ran in the score. At 19-0 the visiting fans relaxed a bit but the homeside soon jolted them out of that. After a period of sustained Chi pressure in and around the Combe 22 the ball was recycled quickly and the Combe defensive line was breached for a converted try.
Half time Chichester 7-19 Westcombe Park
The Chichester fight back continued immediately after the break. The homeside made good ground into Combe territory and it was not a huge surprise that the visiting defence was pierced for a second time when an astute kick through garnered a second converted try for Chichester. Combe did hit back quickly through winger Lespierre. Good work at an attacking lineout put the defenceon the back foot and when the ball was recycled to the winger he jinked through to score Combe's bonus point try.
But the ding dong nature of the game continued. 55 minutes had been played when Chi again made serious inroads into Combe territory and with the defence retreating the home team scored a 3rd try to bring them to within 5 points at 19-24. With the scoreboard pressure intensifying Combe wisely elected to go for the three points on the 62 minute mark. A series of Chi infractions had given Combe good field position and, when there was a further penalty for not releasing about 30 metres out, Harrison kicked the penalty.
Replacement lock Calohard had come on to up the abrasion stakes and Combe edged a bit further in front with 8 minutes to play. A Westcombe attack was held up over the line and from the 5m attacking scrum the pack put on a mighty shove. Johnson picked up at the base, broke left and plunged over for the try. Harrison converted to give the visitors a 34-19 lead.
If the supporters thought it was all over they had to rethink with 3 minutes left when a dogged home side exerted more pressure on the visitors and a converted try ensued to make the score 26-34. Combe had memories of a last minute defeat in the last game of the season. That 62 minute Harrison penalty had provided a more substantial buffer than on that occasion but it was relief when the final whistle went to leave Westcombe the winners.
Another difficult second half for Westcombe Park and another stirring performance from Chichester who maintained the belief throughout that period they could take the winning points. Combe have edged one point clear at the top of the table. Next week's visitors to Goddington Dene, Camberley didn't secure a bonus point away to Thurrock and Havant fell to their first defeat to Cobham.
Match Report: John Vallely