Crawley took a break from their league promotion campaign on Saturday to entertain Burgess Hill in the County Shield semi-final.
Facing a new-look Burgess Hill, after their recent recruitment and acquisition of several Fijians, the game was fiercely competitive throughout and a battle of contrasting approaches.
Winger Andy Gardner who beat his opposite number and sprinted in for the opening try under the posts to go 7–0 up with only two minutes on the clock.
The response came from the visitors five minutes later for 7-7.
The opposing styles of play were well matched and it was clear that controlling possession was going to be the defining factor for the outcome of this Cup match.
The remainder of the second half saw long periods of play in the Crawley half, utilising the strong wind, Crawley were pinned back and made to work hard in defence against the large ball carriers and fight hard to work their way up the field.
Just before the break the pressure paid off and again though a close drive from a line-out Burgess Hill crossed for their second try of the day.
From 7–12 down at half-time but the game was still well balanced.
Crawley’s approach of moving the ball and utilising space more had threatened throughout the first half, with the wind now on their backs possession would be a little more balanced and the home side were confident going into the second half.
The visitors drove the scrum over for their third try.
Gardiner scored his second try of the game courtesy of some fine handling, accuracy of passing and pace in the backline and again saw the Burgess Hill defence struggling to match their speed of movement for 12–17 with 25 minutes to go.
A drop goal in 29th minute extended the visitors’ lead and despite a series of opportunities created through the Crawley backline, none of the chances were taken.
These proved most costly when in the final minutes another close driving play saw Burgess Hill seal their place in the County Final with a 12–25 final scoreline.
Although disappointed, Crawley still have a huge amount to play for.
The first XV can secure the Sussex League title this Saturday at home against Uckfield, a win will guarantee the title with two games still to play.
Meanwhile the third XV have secured their place in the Sussex Vase Final on April 29 at Uckfield against Hastings and Bexhill.