Champions H&B suffer surprise defeat

John Hanagarth produced a splendid display and scored Hastings & Bexhill's final try.
John Hanagarth produced a splendid display and scored Hastings & Bexhill's final try.
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After the euphoria of the previous weekend’s title triumph, Hastings & Bexhill Rugby Club came back to earth with a huge bump.

The Kent One champions suffered only their second league defeat of the season with a 31-17 loss away to third-bottom Sittingbourne on Saturday, despite scoring the first 12 points.

H&B’s squad has had a massive season, which has stretched some very bruised and battered bodies to their limit. This was the week to give them some rest while also offering an opportunity to some of the younger and less experienced members of the squad.

Fielding a side which showed six personnel and two positional changes from seven days earlier, H&B ran into a Sittingbourne team of big, strong players fighting to avoid relegation.

H&B kicked-off and soon dominated the play, quickly building a 12-point lead. The scoring was opened by Ryan Foord, making his first senior start of the season.

Foord was fed the ball by Chaz Ackerley well inside his own half and showed a huge turn of speed to burst through the home defence and score a well-taken try for Bruce Steadman to convert.

Chris Stern capitalised on a swift backs’ move to score the second try, although Ackerley turned his ankle at the start of it and took no further part. Ben Campbell replaced him and made his usual solid contribution.

To make matters worse, Tony Roche injured his shoulder and had to be replaced by Jacob McDonough, who was almost immediately yellow carded for a late tackle.

This disruption did not help H&B’s cause and Sittingbourne sensed an upset was in the air. The hosts raised their game to score three hard-worked tries for a 17-12 half time lead.

Despite heroic second half performances from skipper Jimmy Adams, number eight John Hanagarth and the promising Adam Baker in the centres, H&B could not regain control of the game.

Sittingbourne put the visitors’ defence under continuous pressure and extended their lead to 12 points with a converted try following a five-metre lineout.

H&B’s day continued to unravel when Steadman had to leave the pitch with a damaged shoulder, forcing head coach Chris Brooks to reorganise his team for the second time.

Hanagarth never relented and was justifiably rewarded with a well-taken try to make the score 24-17. Just as a potential late comeback seemed on the cards, however, Sittingbourne replied with another converted try to seal their victory.

H&B: Roche, James, Vincent, Adams, Crosby-Clarke, McManus, Stern, Hanagarth, Steadman, Claughton, Stinson, Ackerley, Baker, Sills, Foord. Replacements: McDonough, Haslam, Campbell.

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