Athough Hastings & Bexhill Rugby Club came away with nothing from its long trip to Thanet Wanderers on Saturday, it could have been a completely different story.
Fielding a team showing several enforced changes, H&B put up a good fight against a team which has now been promoted to London South East Two before losing 26-8.
Head coach Chris Brooks said: “We were expecting a tough game and that was exactly what we got. In fact, they were a lot tougher than I remember last time (H&B lost by three points in November’s reverse fixture).
“I don’t think the score reflected the true nature of the game. Although 26-8 does sound fairly comprehensive, we were pressing their line for long periods of the game and were unlucky not to score on a couple of occasions.
“Apart from one superb try of theirs, which they did pull out of the top drawer, the rest of their scores came from turnover ball when we had been pressing them for long periods of time. There’s a lot to take from it.
“There wasn’t a poor performance out there. I was actually pretty proud of the lads. Despite the scoreline, everyone put in a major shift.
“Towards the end they were pressing our line for a good 10 minutes, including several penalties which we conceded, and we did prevent them from scoring that try.”
Harry Walker replaced the unavailable Eliot Parry at scrum-half and put in a good shift. Dan Suggitt moved to fly-half and Sam Haslam made a rare appearance on the bench.
H&B skipper Joe Umpleby returned to hooker and Tom Jones was in the starting line-up for the first time, while Jimmy Adams, whose troublesome knee is improving, completed the replacements alongside Ryan Foord.
The game was played in ideal spring conditions and was a hard-fought but entertaining encounter.
H&B took the lead after only two minutes. Mark Piotrowski gathered the ball from a five-metre lineout and in the ensuing maul was carried to the line by the H&B forwards for a try.
Thanet equalised with their first piece of good fortune during the game. Their centre charged down an attempted clearance before managing to gain control of the ball and score. The subsequent conversion gave Thanet a 7-5 lead after 10 minutes.
Jones had to be helped off with a knee injury and was replaced by Foord, who played on the wing.
Thanet increased their lead with a hard-worked try out on the wing, but H&B came back with a well-struck penalty from Tom Waring.
Thanet’s second piece of good fortune came when a hopeful crossfield kick bounced up for the winger to gather the ball and cross the whitewash unopposed, setting up the easiest of conversions and a 19-8 half time scoreline.
The second half was very hard fought with neither side really gaining an advantage.
Piotrowski was replaced by Adams in the second row, but H&B were unable to capitalise on a long period of play in the home 22.
Thanet applied pressure of their own on the H&B defence and Frazer McManus was yellow carded for persistent team infringements.
Thanet scored their bonus point fourth try after pushing the seven-man H&B scrum back over the line. The subsequent conversion completed the scoring.
Standings (played 19 matches unless stated): 1 Aylesford Bulls 82pts. 2 Thanet Wanderers 79, 3 Old Dunstonians 59, 4 Bromley 58, 5 Old Williamsonians (20) 56, 6 Lewes (20) 50, 7 Crowborough 49, 8 Park House (20) 48, 9 HASTINGS & BEXHILL 44, 10 Folkestone 42, 11 Sheppey 8, 12 Crawley (20) -3.
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