Hastings & Bexhill Rugby Club overcame a significant obstacle in its quest to clinch the Kent One title.
A hat-trick of Bruce Steadman penalties gave leaders H&B a hard-fought 9-7 win away to third-placed Cranbrook on Saturday.
It was a dull and fairly miserable January afternoon, and though the pitch was in good condition, the pre-match rain had made the surface very greasy.
This didn't help the H&B backs in their efforts to produce the fast and flowing rugby that has been a characteristic of the club's success so far this season.
Both sides went into the game recognising the importance of the result and H&B made a determined start, immediately putting the home defence under pressure.
After Cranbrook conceded a penalty for offside at the ruck, Steadman stepped up and stroked the ball over the bar to give the visitors an early 3-0 lead.
Possessing some big men in their pack, Cranbrook matched the H&B forwards in the scrummage and had a height advantage in the lineout, despite the return of H&B skipper Jimmy Adams. This made every set-play a tense and gruelling struggle for possession and advantage, with the honours fairly even.
Cranbrook won the ball at a scrum just inside H&B's half and their scrum-half initiated a miss man move to put the centre in the clear for a well-taken try, which was converted to give Cranbrook a 7-3 lead.
Steadman landed another well-struck penalty to make the half time score 7-6, which in fairness reflected the play. Even; but with a small home advantage.
The second half was almost identical to the first with neither side able to build the momentum to gain an advantage.
H&B dug deep into their resources to compensate for the sin-binning of hooker Joe Umpleby and managed to survive his 10-minute absence without conceding another score.
Fly-half Steadman put H&B back in front with his third successful penalty of the day and it turned out to be the decisive moment as Cranbrook suffered a first home loss of the season.
The introduction of substitutes Tony Roche, Paul Sandeman and Ben Campbell with their fresh legs helped H&B hang on to their slender lead until the referee, who had managed a tough game well, blew the final whistle.
Kent One top three (all played 15 matches): 1 HASTINGS & BEXHILL 68pts, 2 Old Williamsonians 61, 3 Cranbrook 50.
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