Eastbourne coach Roger Stanley asked his team to play with pride at league leaders Crowborough on Saturday.
They did, but it wasn’t quite enough to topple the division’s strongest side, who have lost only twice all season. Without influential number eight Dominic Groenen and kicker James Coulthard, Eastbourne drafted in Paul Keen and Marc Denny.
On a boggy pitch the Blue and Golds began in confident mood turning over an early Crowborough scrum. But the hosts soon hit back. Steve Clark and Tim Williams initially repelled the charge, but quick hands in the backs eventually broke the defensive line as the home side ran in their first score.
Undeterred, and led by scrum half Keen, Eastbourne continued to press, but without reward. And again Crowborough capitalised to score their second try. Despite willing running from the centres the hosts ran in another score before the break, taking advantage of an overlap in the back line.
Eastbourne started the second half more determined than ever. And when a well-executed line-out was fed to skipper Joe Tobin he crashed over to reduce the deficit. Nathan Ring converted to move the visitors to within 12 points.
But they were soon further behind. Crowborough turned over from the restart and again their backs did the damage, finding a gap to score their fourth try.
Young scrum half Charlie Parks, a player Stanley has high hopes for, replaced Keen, while Charlie Smith and Chris Chilvers were also introduced and the changes seemed to have some effect. Eastbourne pinned Crowborough in their half and pushed for a second score, but the leaders held out for the whistle.
The Blue and Golds host fourth-placed Park House on Saturday, out to extend their unbeaten home run.
Team: Webb, Oakey, Barron, Mottram, Tobin, Ring, Denny, Redman, Keen, Clark, Williams, Hughes-Gage, Thompson, Everett, Turner. Replacements: Parks, Smith, Chilvers. MoM: Paul Keen.