HELLINGLY left it to the very last moment to score the dramatic try that would crown them 2012 Sussex Plate winners on Sunday.
It was one of those days where the bright sunshine yet deceptive cold made for excellent playing conditions rugby but not so good conditions for the spectators. These included a number of Hellingly supporters who travelled to Rye for this epic encounter.
The final is always played at neutral grounds but the vocal support from Hellingly provided the extra man that was required to cope with the destructive power of Midhurst.
The game was started by Hellingly playing into a swirling breeze that was to play its part in the proceedings.
From the off Midhurst demonstrated their commitment and power by driving through the pack, only for Hellingly to first stop them in their tracks, win the ball and drive them back.
The ball was moved to the powerful Ian Richardson, starting in the backs for the first time this season, and although he was brought to ground by the Midhurst back row, they illegally played the ball on the ground to concede the penalty in kicking distance. The kickers have been on fire for Hellingly all season but today was to be the exception as the ball drifted past the post.
Midhurst were able to clear from the 22 and were able to put pressure on the Hellingly runners from turnover ball.
Midhurst kicked for position and Adam Cottingham gathered and cleared to touch but appeared to ‘do an Owen Farrell’ and injure himself in the process. This, however, seemed to settle the No 10 and his distribution and kicking were from then on outstanding.
The game remained intense for the first 20 minutes as first Midhurst had a shot at goal which failed and then Hellingly had a further two before finally the ball sailed through the posts for 3-0 to Hellingly.
The first tactical change took place as Phillip Ives came off for Chris Sands with Richardson returning to his familiar position in the pack.
Finally Midhurst showed the guile and power that put them in the promotion slot a division above Hellingly with a surging run up the left wing that left the defence floundering. Covering tackles by Martyn Smith and Aaron Mcculloch saved the day – but at the expense of a penalty for slowing the ball down and a stretcher for Smith as he stunned his neck in the ruck (scan revealed no damage).
This allowed Midhurst to draw level 3-3 and the half continued with half breaks from Charlie Milner and Dave Sands that threatened tries, but Midhurst were able to hold out and from the carnage that was the ruck penalties were exchanged for 6-6.
The second half with the breeze at their back Hellingly gradually gained the ascendancy as the scrum and line-out began to function well but they were unable to break free from Midhurst desperate defence.
As the half wore on the game seemed to settle into a forward battle between the 10 metre lines. A penalty was conceded to Midhurst after good back play had threatened Hellingly’s 22 but there was relief for Hellingly as the usually reliable Hurst kicker missed.
With 12 minutes left it looked like Tom Manktelow could win the day as again Midhurst gave away a penalty at the breakdown and received a yellow card. The long distance kick was in his normal range but agonisingly fell short and then, with minutes remaining, Hellingly could not capitalise on their man advantage and a second penalty just drifted wide.
Full time saw the game locked at 6-6 with nothing to separate the teams and replacements Luke Davies and Ben Trevorrow on to provide fresh legs for the forwards.
Hellingly looked the more likely to score, with Midhurst fearing scrummaging against a dominant Hellingly pack.
Into extra time and a break by Ian Padgett looked certain to result in a try as he sliced through the Midhurst midfield, but agonisingly the last man was able to intercept a potential scoring pass.
And with no full back in place, Hurst kicked long and Sam Stenning, the biggest man on the pitch, sprinted back to save the day.
Nervous exchanges followed and Hellingly conceded a penalty that Midhurst converted on the half time whistle to make it 9-6 to Midhurst at the turnaround.
A lesser team would have crumbled but Hellingly picked themselves up and, from another Hurst infringement, Sam Wynne flighted the ball to within five metres of the Hurst line, where the action was to remain for the next crucial nine minutes.
From a lineout, Trevorrow leapt like a salmon and the resultant drive was held up over the line; three scrums followed as Midhurst came close to conceding a penalty try. Then James Grey crashed through. He was held just short of the line, followed by Paul Smith who was within a metre himself, but still Midhurst held out.
With the Hellingly support in fevered voice the only concern was that time would run out. Trevorrow again sailed high into the air and the Hellingly pack drove the Midhurst pack 15 metres back to their own line, where they again conceded a penalty.
This was to be the crucial moment, as captain Mark Harris called for a scrum five metres and, heroically, after the fourth reset and a further Midhurst yellow card, Hellingly drove Midhurst over their line and Grey, at No.8, touched down for the winning points in the last act of the game.
This gave Hellingly the victory and prompted ecstatic celebrations as Midhurst players lay strewn exhausted in the final act of this drama.
This was a Hellingly victory built around the tight five and, more particularly, the trio of Matt Sellens, Sam Stenning and Dale Spiers, who dominated their opposite numbers and got stronger the longer the game went on. Man of the match, though, for cool decision-making under pressure was captain Mark Harris.
This victory was Hellingly’s first cup win since 1999.
HELLINGLY: Stenning, Spiers, Sellens, M Smith, P Smith, Harris, Ives, Searle, Punyer, Cottingham, Milner-Heels, Richardson, D Sands, M Sands, McCulloch.
Subs: C Sands, Grey, Manktelow, Davies, Wynne, Trevarrow, Padgett.