Hastings & Bexhill Rugby Club has been crowned Kent One champions with two games to spare.
Long-time leaders H&B clinched the title after a hard-fought 20-17 win at home to second-placed Old Williamsonians on Saturday.
With a gale force wind blowing across the pitch, kicking became something of a lottery as two teams unbeaten in league matches since the turn of the year went head-to-head.
H&B were soon in control, with Tim Sills opening the scoring after only three minutes. The H&B pack put the visitors under pressure and fed the ball to Kit Claughton, who put flying winger Sills away with a defence-splitting pass.
Both teams were playing at the top of their game. Williamsonians’ backs were strong and penetrative, and their forwards matched the home pack. The tackles and midfield hits from both sides were enormous.
Williamsonians came back with a well-struck penalty, but Sills then scored his second try. Tom Waring made good ground before passing to skipper Jimmy Adams and he fed Sills, who danced through the defence at great pace.
Full-back Harry Walker made one of his trademark breaks, leaving the Williamsonians midfield in his wake and releasing Sills for a first half hat-trick. H&B led 15-3 at the interval.
Now playing with the wind in their favour, Williamsonians started the second half by seriously testing the H&B defence.
Scrum-half Eliot Parry stretched H&B’s lead, however, by finishing a move he started deep inside his own half for the bonus point fourth try.
Parry passed the ball out to Bruce Steadman, who made a decisive inside break and set Waring away. As he was tackled, Parry was on hand to receive the ball and cross the whitewash for a well-worked team try.
H&B’s pack was being severely tested by the Williamsonians forwards. As the home defence was clearing its lines, the visiting fly-half made an opportunistic interception to run in a converted try under the posts, 20-10.
The bruising encounter continued as Parry sustained a nasty cut to his hand. He left the field for an emergency repair from physio Jen Furey and came back with the hand heavily strapped, but went to hospital for stitches as soon as the game finished.
Williamsonians mounted attack after attack and eventually the home defence succumbed, H&B’s lead now reduced to three points.
The remaining minutes were very tense and nervous for the home supporters. In the dying seconds the referee awarded H&B a free kick almost under their own posts; the ball was passed to Claughton, who hoofed the ball off the pitch to seal the hardest-fought victory of the season.
H&B: Roche, Umpleby, S. McManus, Adams (c), Crosby-Clarke (Hanagarth 60), Stern, F. McManus, Piotrowski, Parry, Steadman, Stinson (Campbell 60), Claughton (Ackerley 60), Waring, Sills, Walker.
See our comprehensive sports coverage in the Observer every Friday.
Don’t miss out on all the latest breaking news where you live.
Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be amongst the first to know what’s going on.
1 Make this website your homepage
2 Like our Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/Sport-Sussex
3 Follow us on Twitter @SportSussex
4 Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.
And do share with your family and friends - so they don’t miss out!