Petersfield turned in a stunning second-half performance to win 57-10 at home to Bognor and stay top of the table.
After a week of night time frosts and low daytime temperatures it was a relief to players, supporters and more than 100 guests at the sold-out pre-match lunch that a slight thaw had set in to make the pitch playable.
The lunch was in memory of Tony Strickland, Petersfield’s vice-president, former clubhouse manager and a player in the 1970s and early 1980s who died suddenly and peacefully at home on December 9 after attending that day’s pre-match vice-president’s lunch.
His ashes were scattered at the club while players and supporters took part in a minute’s applause in memory of a true club man.
On the field Petersfield once again started quickly and had the scoreboard ticking over after four minutes, Right wing George Davis adding to his season’s total of tries in the right corner, some slick passes finding him after Liam Perkins has secured ruck ball, James Blumlein completed a difficult conversion to enhance the score to 7-0.
From the restart Petersfield secured the ball and passed rapidly to Davis on the right wing.
Being closed down by a Bognor defender, he lightly grubber kicked to near midfield for starting scrum half Ethan Ogilvie to gather the ball and dive over the whitewash close to the posts.
Despite this reasonable angle, Blumlein was unsuccessful with his conversion and the score remained 12-0.
The next 20 minutes found Bognor in control, not letting Petersfield out of their own half, and this pressure eventually led to Petersfield leaking a try, scored by Bognor’s Joshua Burgess and converted by Bradley Caparo to make it 12-7.
Bognor then found themselves in range for a kickable penalty, which Bradley Caparo took cleanly to pull them back to 12-10. The Petersfield supporters were uncertain if their team would keep in front.
Petersfield left the pitch for half-time with the score unchanged, and by now almost 300 spectators, including a sizeable travelling Bognor support and the home team‘s second XV whose match on the Isle of Wight was called off because of a frozen pitch, could reasonably sense an upset.
Whatever was said at half-time, and the reshuffling of the remaining replacements, inspired the team. Prop Ryan Wilkie, having already been replaced under the concussion protocols, had Nick Wilde join at hooker, Alex Duffus at scrum half and former Alton forward Oli Hunt debut for the first XV in the pack.
Four minutes after the restart Petersfield had a lineout in the right corner, known to many as Aubrey’s Corner, where a clean take by Franco Tomic set up a text book maul, with the ball secured and passed to Blumlein to pass to inside centre Will Mathews who pop passed to his sprinting support, the returning to play outside centre Matt McLean, who touched down for a converted try taking the score to 19-10.
Petersfield’s response was to win a scrum inside Bognor’s half, and from the number eight position Liam Perkins picked up and passed to scrum half Duffus, who through passes across the back line got the ball to Davis, who charged down the left side 15-metre channel to round the visitors’ defence and touch down unchallenged under the posts for Blumlein to convert and extend the lead to 26-10.
Two minutes later left wing Miles Sampson took a pass at speed and clattered two despairing tacklers to score in the corner for an unconverted try, and it was 31-10.
While the backs had the most scoring opportunities, the hard work and determination of the forwards secured quick ball throughout the match.
Bognor, whose young side never took a step backwards, restrained Petersfield for ten minutes. Entering the fourth quarter, Petersfield scored four more tries, of which three were converted. Scorers were Matt McLean, Alex Duffus, Liam Perkins and on the final whistle debutant Oli Hunt. All three conversions were by Nick Blumlein, and the final score was 57-10.
The Petersfield squad was 1 Dan Sargent, 2 Sam Brown, 3 Ryan Wilkie, 4 Franco Tomic, 5 Zak Jenkins, 6 Rhys Bowen, 7 Karter Whittock, 8 Liam Perkins, 9 Ethan Ogilvie, 10 Nick Blumlein, 11 Miles Sampson, 12 Will Mathews, 13 Matt McLean, 14 George Davis, 15 Sam Dawes, 16 Nick Wilde, 17 Oli Hunt and 18 Alex Duffus.
This match will have demonstrated some areas that the Petersfield coaches and players will need to work on. There are excellent players in both forwards and backs, and demonstratively as good as any other team in the league.
They have a powerful and technically superior pack, and a back line with outstanding pace, though there are several times in each match when decision making could be improved. This is difficult to coach, but there are basics that can be highlighted and rehearsed.
Today (Saturday) Petersfield travel to fourth-placed Gosport & Fareham, who last Saturday drew 36-36 at Ellingham & Ringwood.