St Leonards Cinque Ports 32
East Grinstead 10
Ports hosted an East Grinstead side that had won nine games in a row, and despite a weakened squad were still favourites to beat a Ports side that had struggled against the league front-runners.
Whereas the visitors travelled with a weakened squad Ports had 25 available players, with only 22 playable Kim Wan and Craig Barrowclough played for Ashford Barbarians against Hastings & Bexhill.
As expected East Grinstead started well. They carried strongly and ferocious tackling from Greg Montier, Mickey Scriven and George Upton held their runners at bay.
‘Box Kick’ Paul Smart clears, with Murray Warman chasing.
What was evident was Ports good defensive structure. Returning back rower Tom Ingram led the defence well. In possession Ports made good yards with Paul Smart and Henry Hill pulling the strings, Upton was a battering ram and Tom Monks trucked the ball well.
From a ruck scrum-half Smart released Scriven. His quick hands found Luke Barningham who fed Will Steele. The Scottish winger showed good pace to score in the corner.
Ports started to control possession. Rob Mayer, Montier and Ingram all found yards. East Grinstead defended well too, but from another run of phases Colin Whyte showed unlikely speed for a front row forward and dived over in the corner.
The visitors again found improved possession, but Ports showed real structure again. Upton was everywhere, and Ingram and Montier were destructive. Ross Kearney made some key tackles in midfield too. Steele again made a strong run and his offload was unfortunate not to release Murray Warman.
The game became increasingly scrappy, Ports controlled the set-piece with Upton winning line-out ball from both sides. From an Ingram carry Steele was pushed into touch. East Grinstead held out Ports from a scrum and kept them at bay. Ingram, Scriven and Upton all drove the ball up and from the ensuing scrum Ingram picked up and drove over strongly.
With the half ticking away East Grinstead found some fluency and crashed over at the end of the half. Ports made a number of changes but maintained their fluency. Mike Hutchins released the backs and Matt Standen drove over the line from five metres out. Hutchins Converted.
The unstoppable force – Tom Monks carrying the ball.
East Grinstead still showed attacking verve, but Warman almost broke free from a kick chase. Montier and Ingram made key tackles, but Ports were increasingly on the back foot. Steele was unlucky not to score after a one-handed pick-up but the game became increasingly wide.
Chris Perry – after three months out with injury – tackled ferociously and debutant James Daniels showed real steel. Ports regained their structure, Hutchins worked the phases and then made an inside ball to Upton who could not be stopped from short range. Hutchins again slotted the conversion.
East Grinstead maintained their attacking intent, but Ports were waiting. Ingram made another key tackle, and Kearney ripped the ball. Montier and Steele again carried well, and Hutchins kicked a penalty after an infringement at the ruck.
East Grinstead scored another after a period of possession but Ports continued to work hard and Warman was unlucky not to break through again.
Coach Paul Smart was clear about the importance of the game: “A momentous day, backs and forwards in harmony. To beat East Grinstead and put 32 points past them, with style was extraordinary”.
The E-Heat man of the match was presented to the entire match-day squad, but the back row trio of Ingram, Upton and Scriven alongside second rower Montier were all ferocious in defence and attack.
Squad 15 L Barningham 14 Warman 13 Kearney 12 Mayer (Standen) 11 Steele 10 Hill (Hutchins) 9 Smart 1 Monks 2 Whyte (Wright) 3 Giles (Daniels) 4 C Barningham (Storey) 5 Montier 6 Scriven (Pykett) 7 Upton 8 Ingram (Perry)