Hove go into Saturday’s play-off game bidding to return to London 1 South - 3 seasons after relegation in 2014/15. Kick-off 3pm at Hove Recreation Ground.
Having been relegated in 2014/15, Hove started the 2015/16 season still trying to find their feet and get a bit of confidence back, having suffered a campaign that ended with 4 wins, 4 draws and 18 losses. By the turn of the year, Hove had lost 4 games at home, including heavy defeats to Sevenoaks, Horsham and Dartfordians. In and amongst the defeats, Hove player Boyd Flavell won Samsung’s try of the month competition in a 31-41 loss to eventual Champions Tunbridge Wells, getting on the end of a fantastic team counter-attack, showing the threat the team carried when they got the ball in hand.
With Alex Robertson joining Sandy Robertson on the coaching staff at the start of the season, it wasn’t until later in the season that the father/son coaching duo started to see a return on what they were implementing in training and an upturn in results. Hove’s home form picked up with some good wins, although Hove saved their best for the second last game of the season. Away at third-placed Dartfordians, Hove showed a glimpse of what they might be capable of, winning 21-29 despite being 21-5 down early on in the game. Hove finished the season with 9 wins, 1 draw and 12 losses.
The start of the 2016/17 season was more positive. The club reopened the front two pitches and the results were a marked improvement on the previous year. Except for a 46-19 away loss to a Medway team that should never have been in our league, Hove were picking up regular points, either by winning games or staying close enough in to pick up a bonus point. The peak performance of this phase of the season being Hove’s 17-21 win away at Beckenham – their first at that ground – in Al Robertson’s last game as coach. Al went back to his adopted home of New Zealand, and Sandy was joined on the coaching team by Jack Newton.
With Jack’s coaching a similar style to Alex’s, Hove took this change in their stride and won 4 of the next 5, including a last-gasp away win at Horsham that will live long in the memory. It wasn’t until after Christmas that things started to go awry.
With the weather turning and a couple of key players leaving, Hove struggled to get going in 2017. A few heavy defeats away, a couple of narrow losses at home. Hove lost 7 games on the trot before picking up wins at home to Heathfield and away to Deal (another first for this set of players) to round off the season. Hove finished 6th with a 9-13 win/loss record.
The big news in the off-season was the return of Ryan Storer, a former Hove player who had gone on to play national leagues, as a player-coach. Ryan drilled the forwards relentlessly over the summer to turn the scrum and a line-out from a weakness to an area of strength without changing the personnel.
Hove started the current season well, with 3 try bonus point wins, before an away loss at Haywards Heath – one of only 2 games this season Hove left completely empty-handed.
Hove recovered and built their season on the foundations of their home form, picking up maximum 30 points in their 6 home games before Christmas. Away losses to Dartfordians and Horsham were nothing like in previous years, with Hove picking up two losing bonus points in these fixtures. However, the Horsham game saw the first of two season-ending injuries for Hove, with Captain Sam Whiting going off with a leg fracture. After a long recovery process, Sam hopes to be fit in time for the new season.
Despite this huge loss to the team, by the turn of the year, Hove were leading a pack of play-off contenders in second, with Dartfordians way out in front.
With the fixture list throwing up a tough January and Hove wary of how things fell apart in 2016/17, Hove managed to pick up a respectable 10 points from their 3 games in January, before a blow-out 107-0 win over Barking.
Hove’s season then rested on the next 4 games, Beckenham away, Dartfordians at home, Charlton Park away and Horsham at home. There are very few easy games in this league, but these four fixtures one after the other would test Hove to their fullest.
Hove started the Beckenahm game slowly, and quickly found themselves 21-0 down. A try on the half-time whistle gave the team a bit of belief, before a dominant 35 minutes put Hove 22-21 up. There was still time for Hove to try to throw it away, and with the clock in the red Beckenham got a penalty to win the game. The kick hit the outside of the post and bounced favourably for Hove, who managed to ground the ball and end the game. Hove came away with 4 points when they would have been lucky to get 1 in previous years.
Despite this good fortune, Hove suffered a wobble, losing to play-off chasing Charlton Park away and then at home to Champions elect Dartfordians in a rearranged game. Although the table still showed Hove in second, they had ceded control as Charlton Park sat just behind with a game in hand.
Horsham at home has never been an easy game for Hove and for the second time in a month Hove found themselves starring down a 21-point deficit, with the score standing at 7-28 after 30 minutes. At the make-or-break moment, the players stood up and managed to turn the game, and found themselves 40-38 up with a restart to field and minutes to play. In contrast to the Beckenham game, Hove offered nothing to Horsham, controlling possession and securing a penalty of their own. Hove ran out 43-38 winners in one of the games of the season.
Happiness turned to elation after the game when the results showed that Charlton Park had lost a tough away game to Dover and Hove had opened up a 6-point lead. Even with Charlton Park’s game in hand, Hove knew that 2 more bonus point wins would deliver the play-off spot.
Much to the relief of the coaches and regular supporters, Hove managed to navigate this without further scare. A 17-50 win away at Heathfield followed up with a 54-9 win at home to Deal to secure a playoff fixture. However, Hove suffered further loss when Charlie Dagwell broke his leg on the stroke of half-time in the Heathfield game. His surgery was last Wednesday and we wish him well in his recovery.
Hove finished the regular season with 16 wins, 6 losses and 18 bonus points, totalling 82 points. A quick glance across at the London 2 South West table saw Old Reigatians also sitting on 82 points, but with 1 fewer win and 4 additional bonus points – giving Hove home advantage.
The club will now host its biggest game since 2010, when Hove beat Guernsey 17-14 to win the club’s first ever promotion to Level 6, in a game few who were there will forget. The players, led by Martin MacDonald, will look to follow in the footsteps of that Hove team and take Hove back into London 1 South.
Updated 07:59 - 2 May 2018 by Neil Parker