Chester 26 - 20 Hull Ionians
9th February 2019
This was an excellent match where the result was potentially in the balance until the final whistle writes Des Hickie. It was almost, but not quite, a game of two halves. Ionians certainly owned the first 39 minutes, but the last 41 were undoubtedly Chester’s. To come back from a 5-20 deficit to overhaul the league leaders for a bonus point win was a fine achievement for the home side, which showed skill, resiliance and superior fitness. It was certainly one of their best performances in recent seasons and a great credit to the players, and to Jan and his coaching team.
Chester began brightly, patiently moving Ionians’ defence left and right in two early attacks, but on each occasion the visitors’ had their measure cleverly forcing attackers into touch when the ball was moved wide. Then, on 9 minutes, Ionians showed clearly why they have been such a potent force in the league. In their first attack they moved the home defence around in a series of phases before creating a mismatch on the Chester right. Inside centre James Ticknell made a clean break between two Chester forwards from half way to the home 22, where he found his fullback, Slingsby, who crossed for a try converted by Lewis Miniken.
Almost on the 20 minute mark Chester came back. James Robins put in a delicate chip into Ionians 22. This led to an attacking lineout and scrum on the visitors’ 5 metre line. The forwards carried the ball on for eight phases before it was moved wide to Craig Ross on the left wing. Craig scored but James was narrowly wide with a difficult conversion.
This, however, was only very temporary relief for the home side. Five minutes later Ionians drove a lineout deep in the home 22, pulled in the Chester cover, then chipped in behind the thinning defence for centre Lewis Milliken to score the try which he then converted.
Ionians dominated territory and momentum for almost the remainder of the second quarter. Chester found it very difficult to exit their own half, but the visitors were only able to add two penalties to their score line. Nevertheless, at 5-20 down on the point of half time Chester’s position looked serious. One more Ionians’ score and it would have been critical. The home side had one more attacking chance in the 40th minute. Ionians defence infringed deep in their own 22 and the penalty set up an attacking lineout. The Chester pack drove over and hooker Scott Robson touched down. James Robins completed the half with a fine touchline conversion to make the score a much healthier 12-20.
Chester’s position did not appear to improve early in the second half when, following a threatening Ionians’ attack Craig Ross had to leave the field with an injured shoulder, to be replaced on the wing by No.8 Shay Owen. Nevertheless the home defence remained strong with some notable hits from Macca van Sertima and Guy Ford.
As the third quarter proceeded so Chester began to dominate territory as Ionians had done earlier. First Tom Foden almost scored following a series of strong drives by the pack, only to lose the ball in an excellent try line tackle from Ionians. Then, from the resulting defensive scrum, Ionians carried into contact and were penalised. Chester set up an attacking lineout. The pack drove the remaining 5 metres and prop Colin Campbell crossed for the try. James Robins then kicked a fine touchline conversion to make it a one point game.
By now Ionians were pretty much rooted in their own half, but their defence was proving resilient and hard to break down. It took another seventeen minutes of pressure for Chester finally to take the lead for the first time. They had two 5 metre lineouts in rapid succession. From the second of these the ball bobbled uncertainly, but Mike Craven cleared it up. The pack carried infield before the ball was moved right and right wing Adam King at last found himself in space to cross in the corner. James Robins then produced his third touchline conversion of the afternoon. The excellence of his place kicking on a blustery afternoon in the end proved the difference between the sides on the scoreboard.
By now Ionians looked to have run out of energy and ideas in attack. They continued to work bravely in defence and never gave up. Chester had two or three more attacking opportunities before the final whistle, but Ionians’ defenders managed to hold out and came away with a very well deserved bonus point. The bonus point win left Chester still in second place, now behind Fylde, with only four points separating the four top sides in the league.