Skipper returns from injury in H&B defeat
After a six-week lay-off with a broken nose, this was probably not the welcome back Hastings & Bexhill Rugby Club skipper Joe Umpleby had planned for himself.
H&B saw a half time lead overturned as they went down 23-14 against Crowborough to suffer a second successive home defeat in London Three South East on Saturday.
With a very skilful fly-half who was able to clear the ball 50 metres up the pitch and who only missed with one kick at goal, a well-drilled Crowborough side proved stiff opposition.
Eliot Parry and flying winger Tim Sills were unavailable because of work commitments, but their replacements Tucker White and Ben Petty put on good displays in their first senior outings of the season. Sam Surridge and Dan Suggitt retained their places in the starting XV.
The visitors soon opened up a six-point lead with two very well-struck penalties.
H&B defended well and set up some promising raids into the Crowborough 22. The packs were well-matched and both sides struggled for superiority.
The H&B forwards won the ball from a lineout to set up an excellent driving maul of more than 30 metres. A pass out to the backs put Petty in the clear for a well-executed try under the posts. Bruce Steadman converted to give H&B a narrow 7-6 lead at half time.
Crowborough, who last season were playing two levels above H&B, called upon all their experience of London League rugby and exerted continuous pressure on the H&B defence.
They took the lead with a pushover try from a five-metre scrum, which was converted with ease. Crowborough extended their advantage with another converted try and then a penalty, giving them a 16-point lead midway through the second half.
Calvin Crosby-Clarke replaced John Hanagarth, Nick van Herpen came on for Anthony Roche and Leon Driver made his senior debut as a replacement for Dan Suggitt, who suffered a shoulder injury. With 10 minutes to play, Hanagarth was recalled to the fray for Mark Piotrowski, who had played his heart out in the second row.
These changes revitalised the H&B pack and they set up several good attacks. Crosby-Clarke received the ball 15 metres out and surged through a gap to score a try which Steadman converted.
After a hectic start to the season, H&B are without a game this coming weekend and the rest will be welcomed by many of the squad members before travelling to Aylesford Bulls for what will be another stiff test the following weekend.