Eastbourne II 5
St Leonards CP 22
Ports found themselves with a strong squad as they made their Sussex Bowl bow in wet and windy conditions under the lights in Eastbourne.
Despite having beaten Eastbourne convincingly in the league earlier in the season, Ports took the field knowing they had never won a cup game. This did not seem to put undue pressure on the Ports players though as they started the game in control.
Steve Hall was a calm presence at scrum half and set the tone. Ports carried the ball well, Josh Storey made a clean break before Ash Mountain and Luke Loving-Price took the ball straight and hard into an Eastbourne defence that buckled but did not break.
Ports showed good discipline and a number of penalties meant they played their rugby in the Eastbourne half. When Eastbourne did carry Loving-Price, Mountain and Ross Kearney all made tackles that halted their runs.
Eastbourne used the win and from a rolling maul looked certain to score before Dale Whittington made an unlikely steal, another Eastbourne opportunity was halted by Matt Standen at the breakdown.
Standen was also dangerous with the ball in hand, he made yards and Hall connected well with Henry Hill. Kearney straightened well onto Hill’s pass and he fed Murray Warman. The captain outstripped the defence and bumped off a tackler to score. Luke Barningham slotted the conversion.
From the kick-off Ports did more of the same, Loving-Price carried aggressively. Again the ball found the Kearney-Warman axis and this time the winger broke through four tacklers to score his second.
Ports continued strongly, Whittington was a fierce tackler and Standen destroyed a number of rucks single-handedly. Hill kicked well and again put Eastbourne under pressure.
Ports worked the ball well through phases with Tom Ingram and Barry Porter. Hall then fed the short side and Barningham dived over in the corner to end the half.
Ports had used their powerful scrum throughout the game, with Rob Tritton a destructive force in the scrum making his first start in six years. Kearney and Barningham were unlucky not to score early in the half but Eastbourne found improved impetus.
It took solid tackling by Porter and Mountain, as well as some unlikely steals by Chopper Gooders to hold them out. Despite these efforts Eastbourne took advantage of a spell of poor Ports discipline and a penalty led to a rolling maul that Ports could not stop.
It appeared that St Leonards had lost their concentration and Eastbourne attempted to take advantage. Eastbourne tried applying the boot but Barningham was a dangerous counter-attacker before Ports took control again.
Mountain made a huge break that split the defence. He could not score, but from an ensuing scrum Mike Hutchins cleverly picked out replacement winger Jake Waring with a pass that saw the flyer over in the corner.
The final moments saw Eastbourne try again but again they could not break the defensive line.
Coach Paul Smart was clear in his assessment of the game: ”A fast start took the game away from Eastbourne, they came back hard in the second half but we regained our shape to seal the win”.
Clearly in a performance of this calibre numerous players pushed for individual awards. Hall was a calm, controlling presence throughout and Whittington was an aerial threat in the lineout, and lethal at the breakdown. The E-Heat man of the match title though fell to Warman. His two tries changed the course of the game, and both required him to break through multiple tacklers and defenders.