In a much-anticipated derby at Whitemans Green, Horsham emerged surprisingly-comfortable winners to complete the double over Haywards Heath and end their opponent’s four-season long unbeaten home record.
In the campaign opener at Coolhurst, the Green and Whites were victorious by a single point and a similarly tight match was expected this time around with the sides standing fourth and fifth in the table.
The tension was ramped up by the match doubling as the Bob Rogers Cup semi-final with Horsham seeking to win the title for the fifth year in succession.
They now have the honour of facing Hove in the final for the third time in five years with the game being played at Hastings on April 28.
Horsham made a slow start in the end-of-season summer sunshine as Haywards Heath took an early lead with a penalty kick awarded for not releasing in the tackle.
With Jordan Smith harshly yellow carded for a high tackle, it looked as if Heath would take advantage, but Horsham’s defensive line held firm for the ten-minute period, during which Tom Blewitt made a great break, but was adjudged to have thrown forward in the tackle.
Ironically, it was when the visitors were back to their full complement that the Heath centre made an excellent break off a flat pass from his own 22 metre line and the try was conceded as Horsham eventually ran out of defenders.
The score was converted and after 31 minutes Haywards Heath were leading 10-0 and appeared to be building an insurmountable lead.
Horsham secured a lifeline in what was a turning point in the game when Johnny Ordidge made a break for scrum-half Josh Steggles to add an injection of pace to cross the line under the posts on the stroke of half-time.
The try was converted by Joe Wilde and with the Green and Whites now going in to the break only 10-7 down.
Iain Fisher scored a fine try breaking with a peel from a set line-out to take the lead early in the second half. Heath were now reeling and when Horsham were awarded another penalty in an attacking position, they opted for a scrum and Watts hit the line at pace to score from first phase which was converted by Wilde.
The bonus-point try was then scored by Tom Johnson which he converted following a series of excellent line-outs.
A delighted Nick Stocker said: “It is always a tough to play Heath on their patch on a very heavy pitch, despite the sunshine. That is evidenced by the fact that Heath have not lost at home in three complete seasons and this year Horsham are the only side to beat them at home and away which is testament to the character and desire shown by the guys.
“A number of people commented on the performance of two different halves, but I prefer to highlight instead that the slope and heavy ground made it very hard for both teams when playing up hill.
“Turning around 10-7 down was a good result and with us playing more rugby as the game progressed, our threat came to the fore with some great tries scored in the last 30 minutes.
“Although not at our attacking best, in terms of spirit and character shown, in front of a big Sussex crowd, all of the coaches and players were very pleased with the outcome.”