SIX players from Lewes RFC celebrated at the weekend as the Sussex side they were playing in beat Hampshire 30-29 to record the county’s first victory at senior level for three seasons.
On a cool but sunny day in Basingstoke, conditions were perfect for open, running rugby – and that is just what the crowd got.
An early break from Seaford’s Paul Burns in the centre put Matty Hodson of Lewes in for a try. The game was pretty even for most of the first half but Sussex gradually built a lead, with the forwards working tremendously hard to secure good quality ball for the backs.
Three further tries meant going into the last quarter Sussex were in the lead by a comfortable margin. And despite a spirited Hampshire comeback in which the hosts scored two converted tries, Sussex dug in to win by the narrowest of margins. A record number of players from Lewes RFC have represented the county over the last three weeks in the RFU County Shield Competition. Forwards Chris Brant, Ben Hamer, Callum Armstrong, Phil Brunt and Tom Tudor, plus backs Will Bell, Marty Campbell, Jon Pitts, James Halpin, Ryan Byrne and Matty Hodson, have all played their part in one or more of the matches against Surrey, Middlesex and Hampshire, with winger Halpin appearing in all three games.
This Lewes contingent, along with the club’s team manager Simon Bates, who fulfils the same role with Sussex, contributed to one of the best seasons for the county for some years.
Armstrong was one of the try scorers in a close 19-17 defeat to Middlesex, a team Sussex lost to by over 20 points in last season’s competition, while full back Hodson touched down on Saturday against Hampshire.
Bates says: “I am proud of all the players who turned out from Lewes. This showed what a strong squad we have. Our players matched their opposite numbers in every match, many of whom play in one or two leagues higher than us. I am extremely optimistic of the club’s prospects next season.”
And Lewes coach Nigel Baker took control of the Sussex Presidents XV – a team composed of players from Sussex 1 and below – and masterminded victories against against Surrey (won 12-5) and Middlesex (won 48-5).
Teenage Lewes winger Ryan Byrne scored the winning try against Surrey, and bagged a hat-trick in the defeat of Middlesex.
In addition to Byrne, local players from Seaford (Paul and Chris Burns, Danny Newby, Ben Cox, Steve Dann), Newick (Dave Helmsley, Stuart Case, Mark Barnard, James Waylett) and Plumpton (Nigel Box) were also part of the winning team. Paul Burns went on to create history for Seaford by being their first player to represent the county at senior level when he played against Hampshire.