Horsham edged a tense contest 13-12 at Coolhurst against local rivals Haywards Heath in their first league game of the new London 2 South East season in appalling conditions.
Heath have bounced back strongly with three successive promotions after having incurred a relegation of five divisions following multiple player departures and the club having to reset itself at a lower level.
Not since the 1998-99 season have Horsham played a league fixture against Haywards Heath, due to the visitors spending most of the intervening time playing rugby at a higher level.
As a result, Heath were something of an unknown quantity and with Pulborough also being promoted this means that there are five Sussex sides in London 2 South East.
Diving rain on Saturday forced multiple handing errors and the quality of the game suffered as a result.
The Green and Whites were fortunate that Heath fly-off Peter Kerins had an off day with his kicks at goal, in what was always going to be a tight contest, starting with missing a penalty in front of the posts after 14 minutes.
Declan Nwachukwu fielded a loose kick from Heath and returned it to force a line-out on the 22 where Horsham secured a penalty and after Josh Steggles took a quick tap with Heath repeatedly infringing, the Green and Whites were awarded a penalty try.
Heath incurred a yellow card for another infringement, as Horsham started playing at a higher tempo and a better structure. Tom Johnson kicked the penalty on 37 minutes and Horsham extended their lead to 10-0.
Heath immediately responded and following another missed kick at goal, there was a moment of controversy. Horsham thought the ball had gone dead and Mike Watts was tackled as he ran the ball to the 22 metre line. Play was allowed to go on and Ryan Maguire spilled the ball, Nwachukwu was yellow carded for encroachment and from the set piece on the stroke of half-time, Brett Menefy squeezed over for a fine try.
Trailing 10-5, Heath were in the ascendancy at the start of the second half and scored an excellent converted try to take the lead.
Horsham were awarded a penalty on 48 minutes which was calmly slotted by Johnson to retake a 13-12 lead.
With the game on a knife-edge, a couple of try-scoring opportunities were missed and in the face of strong defence by Heath, with always the threat of the visitors breaking away to score.
A relieved Horsham head coach Nick Stocker said: “It was a tough opening game as expected from an old rivalry. Heath shaded the scrum until adjustments were made late on and the lineout became a lottery as the weather worsened.
“With no quality set piece we couldn’t get into our patterns and although we offered more threat in attack, our desire to play too much rugby resulted in too many basic mistakes when handling. This gave Heath repeated opportunities to clear any threats
“There were several opportunities that went missing that on another day would have been converted and we will need to be better at converting pressure to points as we go further into the season.
“On the positive side, having gone behind early in the second half, we managed to up the tempo and get a penalty which put us back in front and with the last 20 minutes reduced to a comedy of errors, we closed the game out by pinning Heath into their 22m and preventing any field position. An ugly win but a win nonetheless.”
Horsham travel to Dulwich to face Old Alleynians on Saturday.
Horsham: Watts; Gonzague, J.Bell, Wilde, Nwachukwu; T.Johnson, Steggles (Blewitt); Fairs, Lowe, N.Bell; Clarkson (Goward), Maguire (Brady); R.Tredgett, Smith, M.Tredgett.