Crawley XV 31
Ports made their annual journey north to face a Crawley XV under lights.
As is traditional Ports opened up their squad to guests from other teams, this year Mike Parker and Max Thomason from Streatham and Croydon and Dan O’Rourke from Bromley pulled on the Ports’ shirt as 18 players faced a sizeable home squad.
The early exchanges were nervy, Ports found themselves on the back foot and it took ferocious tackling by Chopper Gooders and Kim Wan to halt early surges, but a misfiring lineout placed Ports deeper in their own territory and Crawley crashed over.
Crawley came forward again and it took a great last ditch tackle by Luke Barningham and a steal by Joe Whitehill-James to release the pressure.
Ports started to apply pressure themselves. Gooders and Whitehill-James evaded tackles, and Crawley were panicky in their own 22. Tom Ingram crashed the ball on and a testing kick by Mike Hutchins turned the Crawley defence. From a strong territorial position Ingram offloaded well and Gooders tapped down. Barningham converted.
From a strong Ports scrum anchored by Mike Parker and Tom Monks, Ingram made another breakaway. He found Whitehill-James who from 60 metres out twisted and turned through the defence and trotted underneath the posts. Barningham again slotted the extras.
Crawley redoubled their efforts. Wan made a piledriving hit when Crawley came down the centre. Out wide Barningham and Whitehill-James shut down the runners. At the breakdown Gooders and Colin Whyte made a nuisance of themselves. Steve Hall was a calm presence and combined well with Hutchins.
Ports nearly added a third through clever work by O’Rourke but Crawley defended well and broke back to score just on the point of half-time.
In the second half Ports again found themselves under pressure, Hodge worked well at the breakdown and Hutchins organised the defence but Crawley broke back.
Ports again came close Ingram carried well but Crawley had made some personnel changes and were finding more space, another break put them ten points ahead.
Ports were not done though. Whyte turned back the years to make a number of shuffling runs, Rob Fink was tigerish in defence and Hodge punched up through the defence. Ports showed good discipline.
Hall gave Ports go forward and his clever kick put Crawley under pressure. Ingram and Choppers drove penalties close before Parker shrugged off tackles to score. Barningham again converted.
The game was close and a number of key decisions went against Ports with the game in the balance another Crawley break found them over in the corner.
With the game lost Ports then threw everything at the last move. Gooders, Ingram, Hutchins and Thomason combined with free-flowing rugby but the score did not happen.
Team manager Gavin Thomas was sanguine in his appraisal: “We came with an unfamiliar looking team and played some great rugby, the result was disappointing the application was not.”
A number of players stood out. Wan was at his destructive best in defence, Whitehill-James was a mercurial presence throughout but E-Heat man of the match was Chopper Gooders. The back-rower tackled everything and was an athletic ball-carrier
15 L Barningham 14 Fink 13 O’Rourke 12 Standen 11 Whitehill-James 10 Hutchings 9 Hall 1 Monks (Parker) 2 Hodge 3 Parker (Thomason) 4 Storey (C Barningham) 5 Wan (Thomas) 6 Whyte 7 Gooders 8 Ingram (Capt)