Colchester 1st XV 26 | 33 Brighton Blues
By Richard Parker
In a fiercely competitive game, that could have gone either way, Brighton clinch the final spot in London & SE Premier
It was so close – but Colchester fell agonisingly short in their promotion play-off against Brighton Blues, losing an enthralling match 26-33 in front of the biggest crowd of the season at Mill Road.
In an evenly-matched encounter, it all came down to the last play of the match as Brighton defended their line with Colchester needing a converted try to take the match into extra- time. Colchester were awarded a five metre scrum and rumbled over, but Ollie Pickett was held-up by some outstanding Brighton defence, the referee blowing the final whistle to spark a mass pitch invasion by the delighted supporters of the men from Sussex.
Colchester qualified for this play-off after finishing second in London North 1 with a record of 24 wins from 26 in the regular season. A place in Level 5 of English rugby rested on this one-off match against Brighton, who had finished runners-up in London South 1.
It was not the start Colchester were looking for, losing lock Ollie White to injury within the first six minutes then quickly conceding a try to Brighton’s number 8 Frank Taggart which was converted by Sean O’Hagan. Colchester, playing with a stiff wind at their backs, hit back with three penalties kicks from James Crozier, who then scored the most eye-catching try of the match, latching on to a Brighton mistake to run in from 40 metres.
Crozier converted his try, but Brighton struck back within a couple of minutes, Jordan Whythe crossing after sustained pressure. Colchester ended a seesaw half on the up - Damien Bramley touching down after a fine handling move involving the backs and created by fly-half Brett Cutbush. Crozier’s conversion attempt was taken wide by the wind, his first miss of the match.
So Colchester turned round 21-14 up, but playing into the wind in the second half the last thing the home side needed was a spell of ill-discipline which saw them concede four penalties in 10 minutes, O’Hagan kicking two of them to close the gap to 21-20.
Colchester hit back with a try after fine work by the forwards, finished by James Mitchell, but Crozier missed the conversion, and that ended the scoring by the home side. Back came Brighton with a try for centre Dylan Winsloe under the post, converted by O’Hagan, who added two further penalties including one monster effort from the half-way line, skilfully making use of the wind.
So it was heartbreak for Colchester, but they can hold their heads up high after a season which has seen them lose just three of 27 matches and play some entertaining and enterprising rugby. For this match they fielded 18 players who had come through their youth section. Sadly it will be London North 1 rugby when the Blacks return to action in September for one last season at Mill Road before they move to their new state-of-the-art ground on the other side of the A12 at the start of the 2020 season.