Hastings & Bexhill Rugby Club was edged out by just three points against second-placed opposition on Saturday.
H&B went down 16-13 at home to Old Williamsonians in a thrilling first London Three South East fixture of 2019 at Ark William Parker Academy.
Williamsonians have always been tough opposition and presented H&B with many problems, but this time H&B rose to the occasion. They played with spirit and tenacity throughout the game, and but for two moments of silliness, could have sprung a major surprise.
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On an unusually dry playing surface for the time of year, H&B took the lead with a beautifully taken penalty by Tom Waring from at least 35 metres out.
The first half continued with robust and physical play from both teams. Calvin Crosby-Clarke was yellow carded for a high tackle and during his absence Williamsonians took the lead.
The visitors firstly levelled the scores with a straightforward penalty and then scored an unconverted try, despite huge defensive play from 14-man H&B.
Adam Baker came off the bench into the reorganised pack and full-back Stash Maltby was sacrificed to the touchline.
The home side regained the lead with a blistering try from winger Tim Sills, who showed amazing speed to burst through the Williamsonians defence from more than 25 metres out to score under the posts; Bruce Steadman converted to put H&B two points in front at 10-8.
H&B skipper Joe Umpleby was sin-binned for obstructing the taking of a quick penalty by the Williamsonians scrum-half and from the retaken tap, the away team moved the ball across the pitch to score an unconverted try, giving them a 13-10 lead at the interval.
As Umpleby returned, H&B coach Ben Davies introduced his replacements. Sam Surridge made way for Archie Ridpath, Steve McManus was replaced by Jacob McDonough and Crosby- Clarke rotated with Adam Parkhouse in the second row.
These fresh legs brought more drive to the H&B attack and the hosts were rewarded with another finely-struck penalty from Waring to bring the scores level with only 10 minutes to play.
The visitors retook the lead with a penalty awarded for offside, but H&B were in the ascendancy with Williamsonians struggling to stay in the game.
The away hooker was red carded for foul play, but despite intense pressure and scrum after scrum on the five-metre line, H&B were unable to cross the whitewash for a potentially match-winning try.
A disappointing end, but if H&B can carry this form into tomorrow’s (Saturday’s) fixture away to fellow strugglers Lewes, a much-needed win is only a whisker away.
Although bottom of the table, H&B are just four points behind Park House and Bromley, and six adrift of Lewes.