Hastings & Bexhill II 29
St Leonards CP 33
An injury crisis at Ports meant they did not complain too strongly at Crawley RFC’s cancellation and instead rapidly arranged friendly against a Hastings & Bexhill XV.
The match saw Ports start with a bare XV including a number of players playing out of position but despite this Ports started strongly.
Andy Sanders, Morgan Pearce and Mickey Scriven all carried well. In what would be a feature of the game Ports lost territory as a result of ill-discipline, a rash challenge on Will Steele turned the tables and Ports found themselves in Hastings territory.
Ports won an ensuing scrum against the head, an effort that injured prop Nick Giles. Despite this the grizzled front rower remained on the field for the entire game.
From the platform of the scrum Ports worked the ball well, Paul Smart and Mike Hutchins combined well before Pearce cut a devastating line. The big centre could not finish but fed Henry Hill playing out of position at full-back who dived over for his first score of the season.
Ports found themselves slipping offside and this allowed Hastings firmly back into the game. Good phases in the 22 saw them over for the first score, and loose tackling allowed them over for a second.
Hastings dominated possession and it took great rucking by Smart and Hutchins, and a last minute tackle by Josh Storey to prevent any further scores. Ports regained composure and worked through the phases well. Scriven and Sanders connected well, and an offload found the powerful Pearce. He brushed aside tacklers to score, Smart slotting the conversion.
The second half started with Ports again in control, but once again ill-discipline saw them on the back foot.
Scriven, Sanders and Hutchins all made big tackles but a well worked move saw Hastings over in the corner.
Ports bounced back, Scriven chased down runners and loose ball saw Ports claim territory. Smart fed Hutchins who made yards and gave Pearce space to outrun the defence and dot down. Smart again converted.
Ports were livelier and Pearce and Murray Warman punched the ball up. Sanders was also a driving force. Veteran outside-half Smart making his 200th appearance for Ports held the Hastings line and his passing found Hill hitting the line at speed who dived over in the corner. Smart converted superbly from the touchline.
Ports found themselves nine points ahead but the first half problems reappeared, along with an injury to Warman which saw them down to 14 men for a period. A well taken tap penalty saw Hastings over, and more pressure saw them dot down in the corner despite the best efforts of Smart and Sanders.
With seven minutes to go Ports saw the game drifting away. The elusive Joe Whitehill-James made an unlikely break and late replacement Tim O’Toole made an unlikely steal. The ball was worked through phases, Sanders again carrying well. Steve Hall dummied the ball, this gave Smart time and space to feed Pearce the rampant centre would not be denied his hat-trick. Smart adding another two points.
Hastings did bounce back but the final exchanges saw Ports defend strongly and a penalty was kicked into touch giving them the win. Smart outlined his thoughts on the game afterwards: “We dragged that win out of ourselves. We didn’t believe it but we were the more structured team. Some fantastic team tries and great spirit was shown to seal a victory over a strong H&B team”.
A number of players stood out. Hill was a great attacking presence at full-back, Hutchins and Pearce in the centres were dangerous. Pearce scored a great hat-trick, and Sanders was an abrasive presence. The E-Heat man of the match though was given to Nick Giles. Despite a debilitating injury he showed real courage to remain on the field and anchor the scrum.
Squad 15 Hill 14 Steele 13 Pearce 12 Hutchins 11 Whitehill-James 10 Smart 9 Hall 1 Whyte 2 Scriven 3 Giles 4 Thomas 5 Storey 6 Barrowclough 7 Warman (O’Toole) 8 Sanders