LAST year's Powergen Junior Vase victory at Crawley came as a surprise to many; this time it was even more so.
The enforced close season changes in personnel were exacerbated by the fact that half the travelling team didn't roll in until 30 minutes before kick-off and Crawley's opening day win in London Four South East
Club spokesman Peter Knight said: "We weren't so confident this year but we did well. The players have lifted their game a lot and (the performances last season) have given them more confidence and skill. Neil Redman is a terrific captain and they've got a lot of faith in each other."
Hastings & Bexhill, helped by the wind on a firm pitch, took an early lead through a Paul Sandeman penalty. The advantage was extended when some shabby Crawley passing after they'd won the ball back from the kick-off led to a move involving Danny Ralph, David Northen, Ben Davies and Jimmy Adams, making his first appearance after an extended stay in Australia, being finished off by Paul Sandeman.
Crawley retaliated, though, and began to put some heat on H&B, forcing Davies off with an injured shoulder. After further pressure the away backline lost its shape a little, allowing Crawley to canter over the line and reduce their arrears to 8-5 at half time.
The second half followed the same pattern of hard tackling and strong running. Neil Redman slotted a penalty to give H&B a little breathing space which was threatened when Sandeman was sin-binned following an innocuous incident.
And, although Crawley pressed hard for a score, H&B broke away with the help of a couple of penalties and actually broadened their cushioned to 16-5 with a quarter of an hour left when Nick Edmunds, Northen and Rhys Bendon teed up Adams who exploited an overlap out wide.
Ralph then had the chance to seal the visitors' progress but inexplicably saw the ball flying from his grasp having dived over the line. And Crawley set up a tense finish by breaching the H&B line following a bit of ping pong by the two full-backs but H&B just about hung on. The tireless Paul Flood was named the Morgan & Lamplugh man of the match.
H&B: P. Northen, Davies, Granville, Redman, Sheppard, McManus, Edmunds, Flood, Sandeman, D. Northen, Ralph, Sparks, Bendon, Campbell, Adams. Replacements: Sprinks, Cullingford, Woolcott, Halligan.