Recalling a poor first half against Kent rivals Folkestone in November, the Blue and Golds were determined to put on a more robust performance in the return fixture.
Despite the absence of second-row stalwart Gavin Farley and the injured Matthew Mottram and Charlie Smith on the wing, Eastbourne made the long journey (comfortably by coach with a small but vocal band of loyal supporters) hoping to avenge the 37-12 defeat in the autumn.
With Carl Slaughter taking his place on the wing, Dan Keen back from a long injury to his knee and a first game for Academy player Ethan Quinn, the visitors had high hopes of a close encounter on a damp but firm pitch. Eastbourne made a promising start and could easily have scored early on but for handling errors and a breakdown in passing as Tom Redman, working tirelessly as usual, split the opposition defence and almost covered himself in glory.
Good tackling on both sides meant that nobody was able to capitalise on useful possession. Folkestone’s solid scrum caused the Blue and Golds a lot of discomfort early on and at one stage it looked as if their threatening advances on the visitors’ line would bring dividends when Tyler Bowry was yellow-carded after twenty-five minutes.
Captain Steve Clarke joined the back row and, pouncing on a loose ball, saved the day for Eastbourne. Good counter attacking by full-back Nick King and excellent running by the backs, in particular, Max Cheater, saw Eastbourne turn the tables on their hosts.
Half-time came with no score on the board but the Sussex boys were confident and fired up for more positive action. Within minutes of the re-start a rapid passing movement saw the ever-vigorous James Grey sprint over for an unconverted try. Despite their strong forwards Folkestone were unable to make headway against Eastbourne, now playing with greater confidence and making fewer errors. The penalty account appeared to be turning in Eastbourne’s favour. However, Folkestone were by no means finished and sterling work by their forwards in a close-quarters effort resulted in five points. The try remained unconverted. It was now all square and the tension increased as each team upped the tempo.
After five minutes Folkestone were penalised and Ben Barter converted the penalty with a very fine kick from thirty yards. Some ten minutes later he repeated the feat and Eastbourne led 11-5. Folkestone were unable to respond and frequent errors undermined their composure as the visitors shut the game down and exerted control. Excellent tackling, brave resistance to a strong pack and persistent attacks gave Eastbourne the winning edge.
After the disappointing losses to Bromley and Heathfield the Blue and Golds put on a superb and thoroughly enjoyable display much to the delight of the travelling supporters.
MoM: Max Cheater.
Team: Bowry, Ring, Keen, van Bentham, Sinclair, Redman, Grey, Cousins, Pysden, Barter,
Slaughter, Clarke, Cheater, Quinn, King, Goldsmith, Antonio Garcia, Harwood.