Horsham lifted the Bob Rogers Cup for the third year in succession but were made to fight all the way by a rejuvenated Hove side.
The competition is played for by all Sussex clubs in London 2 South and London 3 South East and the Green and Whites completed a hat-trick at Lewes on Saturday.
The two sides had met twice already this season and although Horsham easily won the first encounter at Hove 53-14, the return game was a hard-fought 12-7 win.
Hove however have been in a rich vein of form, winning five of their last six games, only losing to unbeaten champions Tunbridge Wells.
Horsham head coach Nick Stocker said he was proud of his side’s fightback after a poor start against Hove.
He said: “We were below par and didn’t click so we are happy to get the win. We were some way short of our best and started slowly when they were flying. I am delighted that we kept our composure after their fast start but we were forcing things and did not look after the ball. We had to dig deep and it was a testament to our character.
“We gave them a head start and they had their tails up, but we became more dominant up front in the scrums and line outs as the game went on.
“Tom Johnson has a great understanding of space to set an attack off on our try line knowing that we have a dangerous strike runner on the outside, Matt Stone delayed his pass perfectly and Declan still had to beat his man and then the cover defence.
“I am very proud of the guys. I have asked them to play without fear and it was a good team/squad performance.”
Hove made a ferocious start and a poor pass by Josh Mills was knocked on by Tom Johnson, and from the scrum Hove moved the ball wide. It looked as if pressure from Will Bell had disrupted the attack but Hove kept the ball alive to score a well-worked try from Boyd Flavell.
Horsham made a brief break out from their half when Arun Thompson stole a line-out and gained 20 yards from a rolling maul, but the pressure was soon back on.
Mike Watts relieved the pressure with a long drop out deep into the Hove half and from this position Andy Gray made a powerful break which was taken on by Kyle Fairs for Johnson to score and convert his own try.
Horsham were penalised for a knock-on which was adjudged deliberate which Hove kicked long for a line out and from the next play Sam Whiting scored a good try which was converted by Phil Dugard.
Against the run of play Watts stole the ball at the breakdown and raced 30 yards up the wing to pass to Thompson to run in under the posts for his 17th try of the season. This unselfish act from Watts denied him his own opportunity of finishing Horsham’s top try scorer this season before returning to Silverdale, New Zealand. Johnson added the extras to level the scores at 12-12.
Hove continued to exert pressure at the start of the second half when Dugard slotted a penalty when Horsham were penalised for wheeling the scrum, and then after a poor clearance kick they spun the ball wide and scored through Luke Torres.
Dugard missed his kick, but Hove were now two scores ahead leading 20-12 and the writing appeared to be on the wall for Horsham.
Horsham then started to unleash the power and depth of their bench to which Hove had no match and Liam Brady with his tackling and Matt Stone with his footballing skills and mobility made an immediate impression.
Johnny Ordidge, playing his 60th successive game across more than two seasons, made a big tackle which won a penalty and a sign of Horsham’s growing confidence was when Johnson went for the catch and drive off the line-out.
Although this did not succeed, Horsham were patient in their build-up play and went through multiple phases until Mills burst through a gap to score which Johnson converted.
Horsham then scored what was possibly their try of the season. Johnson threw out a long pass to Stone on their own try-line who took the ball up to the half-way line and passed to Declan Nwachukwu, who scored a stunning try from 40 yards out. Johnson converted and a 14-point turnaround in six minutes, saw Horsham lead 26-20.
Horsham continued to attack with lung-bursting runs on the charge from Stone and Paul Talbot although a yellow card for Watts for a perceived deliberate knock- on, tempered Horsham’s optimism for the final nine minutes.
Hove were running out of legs and inspiration and could not break down the 14 men in Green and White.
Horsham: Watts, J.Bell (Crook), Ordidge (Carvell), W.Bell, Nwachukwu, T.Johnson, Mills, Talbot, Fisher (Stone), Fairs (Brady), Harcus, Whiting (Clarkson), Smith, Thompson, Gray.
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