St Leonards CP 17
Due to an earlier postponement and a lack of pitch at Hastings, Ports found themselves hosting Lewes at Eastbourne RFC in a ‘double header’ league tie where double league points were available.
Despite the importance of the game Ports found themselves struggling for a squad and this quickly went from bad to worse as they lost Mike Hutchins and Ross Kearney to injury within the early exchanges both of whom had started impressively.
Ports found themselves under immense pressure, loose kicks and a well organised Lewes side hammered at the door. Mickey Scriven, Joe Whitehill-James and Kim Wan all made key hits but a quickly taken tap penalty saw them over the line.
The pressure did not let up, Luke Barningham and Luke Loving-Price both provided huge shifts in defence. Lewes showed their quality though and quick hands placed them over in the corner. At this point Ports looked on the ropes, the mercurial Whitehill-James was an emergency scrum half and the Lewes defence was sucking in the Ports attack with ease.
Whitehill-James picked the pace up, Craig Barningham, Wan and Scriven all gave punchy go forward after Ports shifted to a high pace close game as the half came to a close Loving-Price and Warman found space.
From the kick off Lewes did not deal with the ball and Scriven chased them down. Scriven and Ash Mountain drove at the line, before Whitehill-James showed good awareness and his bouncing pass was picked up in one hand and finished by Will Steele in the corner.
The fast-paced Scotsman rose in prominence in the half, running superb support lines and shutting down attacks in the wide channels. Loose tackling once again allowed Lewes over in the corner and the game was slipping away from Ports.
Luke Barningham became increasingly important too, his interception at a key time released the pressure. He was caught but his offload found Steele. The Scotsman showed good awareness and his offload found Henry Hill and the stand-off finished well.
The game could have had a different sheen if the ref hadn’t called back the game for a scuffle when Barningham was again on his way to the line. Lewes showed real tenacity and despite rugged defence by Loving-Price and Josh Storey they worked a try in the corner.
Despite injuries to both Nick Giles and Tom Monks the Ports scrum had remained strong throughout and it was fitting that they ground their way to the line and Craig Barningham showed great control to dab down. His son converting well.
Ports could see an unlikely win and a well placed Murray Warman kick placed defence under pressure but the decision to award Lewes a drop-out rather than a Ports scrum gave Lewes the opportunity to control the ball and win the game.
Team manager Gavin Thomas was reflective afterwards, he said: “We started far too slowly and showed deference to them. When we picked up the pace we showed real tenacity and a win was inches away.”
Many Ports players performed well, both Barninghams showed real skill; the elder in carrying and finishing his try, the younger in offering real go forward. Loving-Price was also tenacious, and offered some creativity too but E-Heat man of the match was Will Steele who offered real support throughout, tackled well and finished his try with absolute precision.
15 L Barningham 14 Steele 13 Warman 12 Kearney (Storey) 11 Whitehill-James 10 Hill 9 Hutchins (Fink) 1 Whyte 2 Wright 3 Monks (Giles) 4 Wan 5 Mountain 6 Scriven 7 Loving-Price 8 C Barningham