Worthing Senior 1 17, Hellingly 25: This was a much anticipated game by both teams as Hellingly had secured a rare victory against the run away leaders of the league in their last appearance at Horsebridge in November.
That was in dry conditions, the Worthing ground was sticky but playable although the gusting wind was to play havoc with ball control during the game.
With the wind Hellingly started the game at a ferocious pace with several passages of play at the Worthing line but were unable to ground the ball and Worthing were able to escape from their 22. Their no 10 tried an ambitious kick which turned back in the wind and from a Hellingly gather Worthing were forced not for the first time to handle on the ground and this time a penalty was conceded. Ian Padgett took responsibility and drop kicked the three points 0-3.
The restart saw Worthing mount a serious assault on the Hellingly line only for the defence to continue to hold out with a crunching tackle from Charlie Milner being the highlight as he took man and ball back 8 metres in a “George North Drive”. The good play from the Worthing forwards however continued and finally numbers counted as they breached the line off a break away from a 5 metre maul 7-3.
The restart from Ian Padgett allowed Hellingly to pressurise Worthing and keep them pinned in their 22. The resolute Worthing defence looked to have held out until their scrum was forced back by Hellingly and the momentum allowed James Grey to pick up at the base of the scrum and attack the blind side releasing Matt Sands whose pace allowed him to cross the line wide on the wing but crucially touched down close to the posts to enable Padgett to gain the additional points 7-10.
The previous three games had seen Hellingly play sparkling rugby in the first half and then fade in the second. With the wind into their face the three point lead did not look sufficient. The early exchanges did not look good for Hellingly as a well worked rolling maul was adjudged grounded out wide for Worthing 12-10. This concentrated the efforts of Hellingly as they immediately countered through the forwards and released Dave Sands on a one on one which he converted out wide for 12-15. The game then became end to end as Worthing doggedly kicked the corners and Hellingly drove and passed their way back into the Worthing half. With Worthing dominating the lineouts the rolling maul was a key weapon and from another assault Hellingly could not hold out and Worthing scored wide for 17-15. This was not a day for the faint hearted as sleet was swept across the pitch but Hellingly were not finished and after working their way to the edge of the Worthing 22 a miss move saw Ian Padgett break the line and with the Worthing defence scurrying across passed inside to a stand out 10 Huw Jones whose angle allowed him to go in untouched under the posts for 17-20.
The game was taken back to Hellingly by Worthing but at last Hellingly got to grips with the rolling maul and drove Worthing back into touch from each onslaught. This forced Worthing to open out to the backs who on this day were no match for the speed of Hellingly who harried and tackled Worthing and from turned over ball were able to force Worthing back into their own 22.Captain Smith took control and Hellingly drove for the corner and played down the clock. A succession of 5 metre scrum followed which sapped the strength of the Worthing forwards and clearance kicks were run back by Hellingly to keep Worthing pinned back. Finally this epic struggle was decided as James Grey picked up from the back of the scrum and evaded the Worthing back row to go over for the try 17-25 and the eight point gap that denied Worthing a bonus point and pulls them back to reach.
This leap frogs Hellingly into joint second with Horley who they face away this Saturday. The season now depends on Hellingly treating every game as a final; as the first half of the season showed how every team is capable of winning on their day and just six points separate five teams in second place.