St Leonards CP 19
East Grinstead 49
While the score suggests otherwise Ports faced the league leaders and for 70 minutes went head to head with them.
Ports had a large squad, as did their visitors, but knew they would be facing a well-drilled and organised team.
Grinstead had the early possession and faced a wall of tough tackling yellow shirts. George Upton, Morgan Pearce and Kim Wan all put in early punishing hits. Upton also made the early running, carrying confidently. Murray Warman was also a counter attacking threat, and Matt Standen combined well with Mickey Scriven carrying over the gainline.
Despite being on the back foot Ports had the earlier stronger opportunities. Mike Hutchins massive clearing kick was unlucky not to be turned into a try by Joe Whitehill-James. In the set-piece East Grinstead ruled the line-out, but Ports Props Nick Giles and Tom Monks destroyed their opposite numbers.
Despite this East Grinstead picked up the pace and it took a steal by Upton and a punishing hit by Pearce to hold them out. Despite these efforts a drive over, and over poor defence from a free kick put the visitors 12-0 up.
Grinstead starved Ports of possession and carried well, Upton was at every ruck and Wan smashed into the big runners fearlessly. Hutchins dealt with the aerial threat effectively too.
Grinstead made another sortie into Ports territory, Standen stole the ball with a text book jackal. Steve Hall played good heads up rugby to ship the ball rather than kick it. His pass found Murray Warman who ran in the ball from 90 metres. The defence was wrong footed as he trotted home. Hutchins converted.
The second half started with Ports in charge. Hutchins boot found territory, and one attack saw Pearce almost chase the ball down. Standen became more prominent and his bustling run came close before earning a penalty. Hutchins couldn’t bisect the post but Standen collected the loose ball. He battered at the line before the imperious Upton collected and dived over.
East Grinstead was finding Ports increasingly difficult to break down. Pearce robbed the ball, Colin Whyte and Upton drove it wilfully forward. Standen again came achingly close before quick hands from Upton found Pearce who dived over. Hutchins converted via the post.
Ports found themselves seven points up, but East Grinstead’s youthful team found another gear. They quickly found themselves level after some poor decision making on Ports part and then another error let the league leaders back in to the lead.
Ports players were brave, Mickey Scriven tackled and carried well, Ports had opportunities with ten minutes to go to draw the lead back but this created gaps that East Grinstead took advantage of in the last minutes to extend the lead and add an unrepresentative slant to the score.
Ports’ coach Paul Smart summed up the game perfectly: “A truly gripping game, bringing the very best from both sides. We were ahead and rightly went all out for the win, and so did they”.
Numerous performances stood out. Upton was a study in defence and a dynamic runner. Hutchins was a playmaker, and solid in defence, Wan made a number of pulverising tackles but the E-Heat man of the match was Morgan Pearce. The centre tackled ceaselessly, and scored a deserved try for his powerful running
15 Hutchins 14 Warman 13 Pearce 12 Standen 11 Whitehill-James (Steele) 10 Loving-Price 9 Hall 1 Monks (Giles) 2 Whyte 3 Giles (Wright) 4 Mountain (Barningham/Storey) 5 Wan (Thomas) 6 Scriven 7 Upton 8 Perry (Barrowclough) Sub Not used Hanny