Uckfield secured the League title and promotion after a tense afternoon away at 2nd placed Crawley, writes Gordon Buckland.
After finishing as runners up for the previous two seasons, Uckfield finally managed to win Sussex One with two games left to play and having only lost once so far in the campaign.
Crawley were at full strength and looking to ensure that Uckfield didn’t capture the title at their ground. The Acorns made a number of changes to the side that beat East Grinstead narrowly in the Cup last week.
From the kick off both teams were playing with real intensity and purpose. Crawley looking to attack with direct running early. After 5 mins however, young flanker Jack Monks turned over one of the Crawley centres and sprung into an immediate counter attack which resulted in a scrum to Uckfield on the 22, from here new scrum half Sean Bate broke, chip kicked through into the dead ball area and then won the foot race to score the games opening try. Fly half Buckland added the extras.
Not to be outdone, Crawley hit back quickly and scored a well worked try but were unable to slot the conversion. 7-5. At the 25 minute mark Uckfield were back in the Crawley 22 and aiming to add to the try tally. The forwards were picking and driving around the fringes and after a number of phases Matthew Evans was the eventual player to crash over the line from short range, again converted by Buckland.
Uckfield were beginning to play better rugby and on the stroke of half time were awarded a penalty 15 meters out, Buckland slotted the three points leaving the score 17-5 at half time.
Crawley came out of the blocks exceptionally strongly after the break and caught Uckfield off the pace. Moving the ball across the park, they scored after only a couple of minutes. It was converted, 15-17. Uckfield needed to respond and 10 minutes later after a number of phases, the Acorns finally played with some width allowing Lee Evans enough space to sprint away from the much younger opposition winger to score.
Again, Crawley would not ease off and attacked hard before a slightly odd decision by the referee saw Crawleys largely ineffective scrum half score a doubtful try under the posts. Uckfield spoke about the importance of the remaining 15 minutes and while still in the lead, needed to respond. The forwards who had been impressing all afternoon with their driving mauls were off again making 20-25 meters each time. Eventually from the results phases, quick hands on the blind side and a pin point pass from L Evans saw youngest Matt De Souza dive into the corner, securing the bonus point and the likely victory.
From the restart, Captain Hartfield took off, before putting M Evans into space who made 35 meters before off loading to reliable centre Zak Mellet, from this part of the pitch Uckfield were able to build a score the forwards were working well, around the fringes with Armstrong, Smart, Humphreys and Harper-Dowe making an impact but It was veteran Prop, Adam Palmer, who crashed over to score the Acorns fifth try.
The last few minutes were tense, but excellent work by Payne, Mellet and Page-Mitchelle held off the Crawley attack but were finally beaten by worked try. Fortunately for Uckfield it would be too little too late. As the conversion sailed over the post, the referee blew the final whistle. Victory to Uckfield. The League Title and Promotion secured.
Special thanks must go to the Uckfield coaching and support team who have worked tirelessly all season and the travelling supporters for pushing the players to keep working hard and most importantly enjoying the rugby.
Crawley RFC 1s 29 v Uckfield RFC 1s 34
IMAGES by Ron Hill (HillPhotographic)