Lewes finished the first half of the season on a high with a well-deserved 22-15 win against top-of-the-table Brighton.
And they gained a vital bonus point in a result that sees them move up to third in the table, only one point behind co-leaders Brighton and Crowborough.
Although on top for 60 minutes of the game, they had to resist a vigorous fightback from the home side in the last quarter when only resolute defence kept their line intact.
With some supporters still in the bar, Brighton took an immediate lead when, from their first attack, they scored in the right-hand corner for an unconverted try. Lewes quickly showed they could recover from this early setback when, for the rest of the half, the pack – led by hooker Tom Gribble – dominated possession and managed to force Brighton back or into unforced errors when they had the ball.
Lewes started to go through the phases to gain good territorial positions, and then released their backs to telling effect. Left-wing James Halpin completed a move down the right before full-back Matt Hodson came into the line going left to score wide out. Both conversions failed, and in between Brighton had added a penalty to make the score 8-10.
But the hosts were further punished when Halpin initiated a surging counter-attack down the left which culminated with right-winger Drew Neist squeezing in at the corner.
Once again the conversion was missed but Lewes were able to go in 15-8 up at the break.
Normal service resumed at the start of the second period with the Lewes pack driving into the Brighton half. This pressure resulted in a further, bonus-point, try from Gribble which outside-centre Josh Reid converted to see Lewes pull away at 22-8.
Roles were then reversed in the last 20 minutes as the Brighton forwards dished out similar medicine to Lewes.
Ten minutes from time, their efforts were rewarded with a try wide out right, the conversion putting Brighton within a score of a draw at 15-22, and they set about the task with increasing vigour. The last few minutes were frantic, with the home pack hammering at the Lewes line, but time and again they were stopped inches short as Lewes showed, as the final whistle went for a 22-15 win, that their defence can – under the severest pressure – be as effective as their attack.
Lewes head coach Nigel Baker said: “Apart from the first 39 seconds, our defence was tremendous. The game was won by playing phases and then releasing the backs to attack the spaces, to good effect.”
Lewes now have a break over the festive period, returning to league duties on January 5 with a tough home match against Charlton Park, kick off 2.15pm.
LEWES: Brunt, Gribble, Dean, Brant, Gorbell, Hamer, Were, Ridley, Bell, March, Halpin, McGlynn, Reid, Neist, Hodson (Reps: Wood, Sinclair, Tudor).
Lewes 2nd XV’s at Seaford was a victim of the weather; while the 3rd XV lost 22-0 at Hastings 2nds.