In a proper top-of-the-table clash where two 100 per cent records were on the line in National 2 South East, Dartfordians ran out eventual 13-10 winners at Horsham.
The game was played with an intensity that neither side have faced so far this season with no quarter given and a crowd of 150 was the largest seen at Coolhurst for several years.
Dartfordians are certainly a club on the rise and it is easy to forget that they were playing in Kent 1 as recently as five years ago.
Under the capable stewardship of Jarrod Lawrence and Dave Phillips they have since had two promotions, finishing third in the league for the past two seasons and are favourites to win it this year.
Horsham have now lost to Dartfordians four times in succession but this was the closest contest for some time and the only regret for the Green and Whites will be that they could not hold on to their lead for another six minutes.
Horsham were penalised for not rolling away early on and Jonny Regnier slotted a straight-forward penalty, before Regnier then missed another kick at goal for the same infringement.
Horsham were playing without the ball and a double tackle by Michael Tredgett and Dan Cass on Dartfordians’ Mark Randall was adjudged to be high by Tredgett which saw him yellow carded.
Only the quality of the Horsham defence, laying bodies on the line, held the visitors out as they tried to take advantage of having the extra man.
Centre Ollie Edwards for Dartfordians then made a great line-break but lost control of the ball in the tackle and knocked it forward.
Amazingly Horsham had got to the half hour mark with a negligible amount of possession, and with 14 men for part of that period, without conceding any further points.
On 32 minutes, Horsham broke out of defence through Joe Wilde and a great tackle on Declan Nwachukwu which prevented a likely try in their first visit to the opposition 22. For the first time in the game Horsham put together a succession of attacking phases and forced a penalty which was converted by Tom Johnson 3-3.
Horsham soon conceded another penalty for being off their feet at the ruck which Regnier accepted.
The second-half started in a replay of the first with Regnier pinning Horsham into the corners. As the half went on there was an improvement in Horsham’s performance but this was punctured by too many set-piece errors preventing pressure building.
Horsham finally had an attacking position on 63 minutes. Nwachukwu broke and when he was tackled the ball was taken on by Watts and from the recycle, Nwachukwu was available to finish well under pressure and Johnson converted. 10-6.
On 74 minutes the Green and White tide of optimism was ended when Horsham made a mistake at their scrum. Regnier hacked through and won the foot race to regather and touch down and score the winning try. The kick was adjudged to have been converted by Regnier, although most of the crowd thought it had sailed wide.
“It was a tough game befitting two teams who were undefeated going into this fixture,” Horsham head coach Nick Stocker said.
“Our set-piece did not function at all which was disappointing - particularly in the lineout where we made too many basic mistakes and conceded possession too easily.
“Without quality first phase our very dangerous backs could not get going. We showed the threat with the ball in the build-up to Declan’s try but did not fashion enough against a well-organised defensive side who make very few mistakes.
“On the positive side, our defence was much improved and under real pressure in several stages stood firm with our physicality a notable step up compared to recent weeks.”
Horsham face Hampshire side Eastleigh at home on Saturday in the first round of the National Intermediate Cup.
Horsham: Watts; Nwachukwu, Blewitt, Wilde, Bell; Johnson (capt), Mills; Fairs, Lowe (Murphy), Cass; Clarkson (Maguire), R.Tredgett ; Brady, M.Tredgett, Whiting.