Hastings & Bexhill Rugby Club chalked up another convincing win in its quest for the Kent One title, but was made to work very hard by bottom three opposition.
The leaders triumphed 36-19 away to New Ash Green on Saturday, but the NAG coach said his side had put in its performance of the season and the 19 points they scored was the most H&B have conceded in a league fixture all campaign.
H&B came under immediate pressure, and despite two cracking tackles from Bruce Steadman and frantic work from the H&B defence, New Ash Green scored a try inside two minutes. The conversion unluckily bounced back off the crossbar.
H&B steadied their game and knuckled down to their task. Scrum-half Eliot Parry produced a clever chip kick over the NAG pack for winger Tim Sills to collect and score under the posts. Steadman converted to put H&B into a 7-5 lead after 12 minutes..
Playing his usual storming and hard working game, number eight Mark Piotrowski crashed over following a five-metre lineout to increase the advantage.
Jake Stinson made a determined break on the wing and fed the ball inside for full-back Tom Waring to score under the posts. Steadman converted to give H&B a 19-5 half time cushion.
The second half started with New Ash Green mounting attack after attack on the H&B line. Their determination paid off in the 58th minute when they intercepted an H&B pass and fed the ball through their back line to score a converted try, narrowing the gap to seven points.
H&B responded, though. Calvin Crosby-Clarke made a determined break from midfield, using all his strength and speed to burst through the NAG defence, before putting Stinson away for the bonus point fourth try. Steadman converted.
But New Ash Green were not finished. They came back at H&B with even more fervour and capitalised on a midfield error to score again. Their in-form kicker again converted and once more H&B’s lead was reduced to only seven points.
Joel Pepper, son of former captain and club stalwart Steve, came on as a replacement for Jack James (who had a solid game at flanker) and made an immediate impact with several big tackles.
Parry put skipper Jimmy Adams away for a hard-worked try to put H&B 12 points clear and ended the hosts’ resistance. Second rower Adams had an inspirational game, leading from the front and involved in every play.
New Ash Green had given their all, but were unable to foil the swift ball handling of the H&B back line. Ben Campbell completed the scoring at the end of a well-constructed, flowing backs’ move which started well inside H&B’s half.
The 17-point win, with five regulars unavailable, highlighted H&B’s strength in depth. The determined spirit of the squad shone through to overcome worthy opponents who provided the type of contest they can expect in a higher league.
H&B remain seven points clear of second-placed Old Williamsonians with three games remaining.
H&B: Roche (Vincent), Umpleby, S. McManus, Adams (c), Crosby-Clarke, James (Pepper), F. McManus, Piotrowski, Parry, Steadman, Stinson, Claughton (Campbell), Ackerley, Sills, Waring.
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