St Leonards CP 15
Crowborough II 19
During the reverse fixture at Crowborough, Ports shipped 60 points, the home tie saw a strong Crowborough side who are solid in second place arrive to face a Ports side that was missing some key personnel and were playing full-back Chopper Gooders in the back row.
The opening 20 minutes were exceptionally tight, Gooders made tackle after tackle and Morgan Pearce added his considerable size to the defensive effort.
Crowborough controlled more of the ball but found themselves shackled, Tom Ingram and Gooders were competitive at the breakdown. When Crowborough did break through they found Tom Monks making huge tackles out wide.
The set piece worked in Ports favour, the scrummage was destructive throughout and Josh Storey disrupted Crowborough’s impressive maul. The game saw both defences making heroic efforts and there were occasional bright spots. Max Olujobi danced out on the wing, and Neil Davie was a darting presence.
Crowborough was under pressure and a penalty allowed them to clear, Mike Hutchins caught the ball and counter attacked. His offload found the free-running Pearce, he fixed his man and fed Warman. The Ports skipper accelerated away to score.
Ports found a rhythm, Pearce strong running gave Ports an outlet. From a scrum Ingram tore away, he found Davie with a deft offload. Pearce came close, before Davie tidied and scampered over for his score. Luke Barningham on his 100th game slotted the conversion.
Ports was in control but Crowborough fought their way back, Gooders, Pearce and Storey all made key tackles on the line but an unlikely scrum won against the head gave Crowborough a chance to crash over.
Ports started the second half brightly, Gooders clean line out ball saw Davie and Ashley Mountain combine for the big second row to make yards. The game was tight and defensive, but a slipped tackle saw Crowborough break through and a slick offload saw them over to take the lead.
Ports hammered back, Mountain and Pearce carrying well and an offence at the breakdown gave the nerveless Barningham a chance to slot a penalty to give a narrow lead.
The game continued to be nip and tuck. For each pulsating run by Warman, or Colin Whyte there was a defensive effort from Gooders ,Pearce or Hutchins who showed immense strength under pressure.
Chris Perry was also a defensive whirlwind making countless tackles and jackals. Crowborough then took advantage of a lapse in concentration to sneak over. With minutes to go Ports came back, Warman came close and Storey put in the effort but Crowborough edged it as the game came to an end.
Coach Paul Smart was reflective when speaking after the game: “We were very unlucky to lose such a tight game. We were in control for the most part. Two lapses of concentration cost us dearly”.
Despite the defeat a number of players stood out, Storey was hard-working and disruptive at ruck and maul, Gooders appeared to be a natural back rower with a barrage of tackles but E-Heat Man of the Match was Morgan Pearce. The centre ran tirelessly, tackled ferociously and carried relentlessly.
Team 15 Hutchins 14 Olujobi (Steele) 13 Warman 12 Pearce 11 L Barningham 10 Hill (Waughman) 9 Davie (Eastwood) 1 Monks (Wan) 2 Whyte 3 Giles 4 Storey 5 Mountain (C Barningham) 6 Gooders 7 Perry 8 Ingram