Horsham completed their league campaign with a fourth successive win and a resounding 52-10 victory away to already relegated Burgess Hill and finish fourth on points difference due to Dartfordians suffering a surprise defeat.
This is the Green and White’s highest end of season league position for over ten years and provides a platform for a concerted push for promotion next season.
Horsham coach Nick Stocker is already well advanced with his plans to reinforce the squad for the coming campaign with players returning to the club having tested themselves at a higher level, and graduates from a strong Colts team coming through behind.
With both the Lions and the Third Team having won their respective leagues over the last two seasons, and the strongest coaching combination the club has ever had of Stocker, Richard Bell and Barry Hillicks, Horsham have shown that they can compete with clubs at a higher level as shown by pre season wins over Heathfield and Crowborough, and victories home and away over promoted Ashford.
All that is required is a greater strength in depth and consistency when in mid-season the seemingly inevitable combination of injury, illness and unavailability occurs.
There will be increased Sussex interest next season to London 3 South East with more local derbies following the relegation of Lewes and Heathfield and the promotion of Pulborough, and Horsham now have the Bob Rogers Sussex Cup Final to look forward to against Lewes, who completed their league season with a narrow defeat to Crowborough.
“It was important to get in an 80 minute performance ahead of the cup-final,” Stocker said. “We controlled, dominated and threatened them throughout going up the hill in the first half, but we tailed off in the last quarter and the intensity to play for the entire match has eluded us all season which has cost us points against better teams.
“I think the referee evened things up a little towards the end however if we can be more disciplined and cut out the errors we are a formidable side who no-one will fancy playing.”
Horsham made a fast start after nine minutes when Jonny Ordidge punched a hole in the centre to make a great offload to James Whiting, who outpaced the cover defence to score under the posts and the try was converted by Matt Brown.
Burgess Hill’s restart went out on the full and from the ensuing scrum Brown ran a good direct line to score and he converted his own try.
The home side were not helping themselves because from the restart they again kicked out on the full and Horsham scored their third try in six minutes when Lee Taylor scored in the left corner following good hands along the three quarter line.
Burgess Hill pegged three points back with a penalty but then there was no way back for them when Ben Rush made a break which ended in him being dangerously tackled, and from the subsequent confrontation the Burgess Hill scrum half was red carded following a head butt, and they were down to fourteen men.
Johnny Whiting made a powerful break and linked with Brown but he was forced into touch. This created the position for a powerful driving maul allowing Rush to burst through a weak tackle and score from close to the line.
Burgess Hill made a brief foray into Horsham territory but were undone when Brown intercepted a pass on his own 25 yard line and was faced with the frightening thought of having to sprint 75 yards with the entire opposition chasing him. Having reached the half way line he thought better of it and with the purring sprint engine of Jamie Gibbs at his side he passed to the supporting player who put on the afterburners to outpace any chasing defender to score under the posts and with Brown’s conversion take the score to 33-3.
From Burgess Hill’s restart James Whiting cleared the danger and took the ball wide linking with his brother Johnny who put in a long kick which was chased hard by Gibbs who tackled the receiver on the try line but a penalty was conceded at the breakdown.
Horsham started the second half quickly when Ordidge cut the defence to shreds off first phase possession to burst through the opposition centres to score under the posts.
Rush then put in a high kick which the following Gibbs caught at full stretch in the act of being tackled and from his offload Horsham nearly scored their try of the season as the ball was moved swiftly through several sets of hands before desperate Burgess Hill defence prevented a further score.
The respite was brief as following fine handling, Ordidge dummied his man to run in from 30 yards and score his second try of the game.
Johnny Whiting was then yellow carded for a late tackle which appeared marginal at best and may have been more of an accumulation of offences, and then after a good handling movement Ordidge unselfishly put Gibbs clear to score as the lead changed hands again in their own personal battle to be the side’s leading try scorer of the season.
Horsham then made changes off the bench but this didn’t create any impetus as the Green and Whites appeared to ease off with the game won, and credit must be given to Burgess Hill who prevented Horsham from scoring any further tries in the final quarter of the game, despite being down to fourteen men, and even scored a consolation try of their own in the last minute.
Stocker added “My man of the match is Jamie Gibbs in only his second game after returning from injury scoring two tries. He showed pure commitment whether using his pace to support line breaks or making defensive cover tackles. I thought Jonny Ordidge was strong in the centre and Iain Fisher had a good game in the back row and at hooker. Paul Talbot has been consistency personified all season as well as Giles Barber, and James Whiting did well in open play.”
The final game of the season is the Bob Rogers Sussex Cup Final against Lewes at Bognor Rugby Club kicking off at 2.30pm on Sunday April 27 and supporters coaches are being run. Please phone the club on 01403 265027 for details.
Horsham: Talbot (capt), Stone (Price 40), Barber (Fairs 62); Jonathan Whiting, Green; Fisher, Smith, Pirt; Rush, Johnson; Gibbs, Brown (Downey 62), Ordidge, Taylor; James Whiting