With the top four sides victorious and securing maximum points Horsham remain fourth in London 2 South East after a decisive 47-22 win against local rivals Pulborough, writes Richard Ordidge.
Horsham’s crowd of 200 was the largest seen at Coolhurst for many years, with numbers swelled by a well-supported Vice Presidents Lunch and the formal opening of the club’s new Changing Room block.
In attendance were representatives from the RFU and Sport England, who have assisted with the funding of the project, as well as Gavin Ross the President of the Sussex RFU.
This was the game that Pulborough had been targeting following their title winning season and well-earned promotion, and they came bristling with intent, firmly set on causing an upset, and with local bragging rights at stake there was an air of expectancy amongst the supporters at Coolhurst.
Horsham head coach Nick Stocker had demanded a reaction from his players after two successive defeats, and this fixture provided the ideal opportunity.
The Green and Whites knew that they would have to withstand an early storm from the visitors and sure enough this happened when Pulborough took the lead after two minutes.
In bright sunny conditions, and with Horsham playing into a slight cross-field wind, the visitors went through a number phases in trying to test the Green and White defence. Tom Blewitt tried to relieve the pressure with a counter-attack but his pass was intercepted by Brad Game who, with the defence committed, showed his pace by sprinting down the touchline to score in the corner. 0-5.
Unlike in recent weeks Horsham had early dominance in the scrum but they were guilty of forcing the ball and playing too loosely. The hosts did however look a threat when the ball was spun wide through several sets of hands to Declan Nwachukwu, who was stopped just short.
Jordan Bell, playing his first game at fly-half, made a half break off first phase possession, and from this position Pulborough conceded a penalty in front of the posts which was calmly slotted by Joe Wilde. 3-5.
Jonny Goward made a powerful break in the loose to create an attacking position and Pulborough were caught offside, Horsham played advantage and after Mike Watts had made a great break followed by some fine handling Wilde crossed to score. 8-5.
Pulborough then regained the lead through Dan Bullock following a great blind-side break with good support despite their scrum being pushed backwards and wheeling, although Horsham will be disappointed by their tackling, and the try was converted by Frazer Oliphant-Hope. 8-12.
Horsham bounced back when after a good attack the ball was recycled and Michael Tredgett powered through a couple of weak tackles to score and Wilde converted. 15-12. Horsham’s back-line was then disrupted when Tom Blewitt came off injured to be replaced by Andy Carvell. Oliphant-Hope then levelled the scores with a long-range penalty 15-15.
All teams are trying to play multi-phase rugby, where the ball is kept alive through offloads, but equally important in achieving this is knowing when not to throw a pass. Pulborough had been scoring off Horsham’s mistakes and the home side started to tighten up, asserting their superiority and playing with confidence scoring a further four tries before the visitors replied with a consolation at the end.
There is so much to be excited about when Horsham play like this. They were physically superior, full of invention, full of cunning and full of intelligence, playing with power, pace and precision. Their ball-carriers were breaking the gain-line, their playmakers were finding space and their finishers were devastating. They had that triple threat for which every team strives.
Watts was proving elusive in his running whilst Kyle Fairs, Jonny Whiting and Carvell featured prominently as they made the hard yards against the opposition. The Green and Whites continued to turn the screw as Whiting broke off the back of the scrum but was stopped just short and then shortly afterwards Carvell lost control of the ball in the tackle as he crossed the line.
Horsham were playing with noticeably increased confidence and Pulborough had no answer to the home side’s offloading game as the Green and Whites got into an attacking rhythm, and after another break from Michael Tredgett, his brother Richard ran through the gap holding off several defenders before Nick Bell ran a great line off the angle to score under the posts unopposed and Wilde converted. 22-15.
This was followed by Horsham winning a scrum against the head and off first phase possession the ball was spun wide before Watts made the incisive break to put Nwachukwu away to score. Wilde converted and Horsham went into the half-time break leading 29-15.
Horsham’s line-out was functioning better than in recent weeks and after Rich Tredgett stole opposition ball the hosts upped the pace again and following repeated Pulborough offences good pressure at the breakdown led to a penalty which was kicked by Wilde. 32-15.
Moments later after multiple phases a well set up driving maul with recycling was well finished by Whiting when he crashed through to score in the corner supported by Rich Tredgett. 37-15. Pulborough were finding it difficult to handle the hard and direct running of Fairs, Whiting and the Tredgett brothers, and a fine recycle led to a try off a rolling maul for Jake Lowe, which Wilde converted from the touchline. 44-15.
Horsham were rampant, and are a formidable attacking force when they find their rhythm, but as soon as it looked as if it would turn into a rout the game started to meander when the game went to uncontested scrums, and Horsham failed to score a try in the final quarter. Uncontested scrums suited Pulborough as they were being shoved off the ball, and the attritional effect of the continual pressure on the visitors had unfortunately seen a couple of injuries and Horsham were unable to assert their forward superiority against tiring opponents as before.
Pulborough full back Nick Haynes who had been a lively threat throughout made a great counter-attack, while Nwachukwu went off injured, and with Horsham only having front row forwards left on the bench meant they had lost much of their pace out wide.
As the game entered its final stages Wilde added another penalty following more carrying pressure and Liam Brady was yellow carded. 47-15. In the final moments there was a crumb of comfort for Pulborough when from a line-out on the half way, seeing Horsham disorganised in defence, scrum-half Harry Bullock showed real pace to accelerate away to score a consolation try which Oliphant-Hope converted. Final score 47-22.
“A much-improved performance today from the team with the set piece providing better ball than in recent weeks”, Horsham head coach Nick Stocker reflected after the game. “Our attack shape was better and players were not isolated as a result.
"Our physicality made a reappearance for the first time in a couple of weeks and ultimately that proved the difference with the likes of Mike Tredgett, Nick Bell, Johnny Whiting, Rich Tredgett and Johnny Goward prominent.
"In the backs, Jordan Bell had a good game at 10 considering it was the first time he has run out there and young Rasmus Madum on the wing fitted in very well on debut. Mike Watts is a real threat and the combination of Joe Wilde and Tom Blewitt looked very good until Tom’s unfortunate injury early on.
"Whilst much improved, we were guilty of playing too loosely for large parts of the game and had we looked after the ball more, we would have converted more of the opportunities created.
"However, a 5 point win was just the tonic to get back on track and we prepare again for the next test of Heathfield & Waldron away next weekend.”
Horsham now face Heathfield & Waldron away on 4 November. Honours were shared last season and another highly competitive encounter is expected.
Horsham: Watts; Nwachukwu (Cass), Blewitt (Carvell), Wilde, Madum; Bell J, Mills; Fairs (Brady), Lowe, Bell N; Goward, Tredgett R (capt); Tredgett M, Smith, Whiting