Gosport & Fareham are heading back to London one south after a titanic 14-11 play-off win over Maidstone at Gosport Park.
The home side needed to display all their resilience and discipline to withstand a tremendous effort from the Kent visitors who pushed them all the way.
Scott Ashley admitted the experience didn’t do his blood pressure or finger nails any favours.
‘Playing nine minutes extra at the end left us all living on our nerves,’ said Gosport & Fareham’s head coach.
‘It was a terrific, exciting game of rugby which both teams can take credit for.
‘Some of the big hits in the tackle from both sides were impressive in a hard, physical but fair contest.
‘Maidstone threw everything but the kitchen sink at us and it went to the wire.
‘I am so proud to be the head coach of a team that has got us back to where I believe we belong.
‘Once again the terrific support from the sidelines getting behind our team made a big difference.’
The scene was set in an end-to-end opening 20 minutes during which neither side could score.
The home side then drew first blood with Alex Duncombe scoring a well-worked try.
His conversion from right in front of the posts, however, struck the woodwork.
The two sides then swapped penalties before Duncombe sent his team into the break leading 11-3 with another kick.
It was Maidstone who came out firing on all cylinders at the start of the second half, though.
They reduced the deficit to a point with a well-worked converted try.
Another Duncombe penalty stretched the lead to four points but the hosts had to endure a torrid finish.
A yellow card deep into stoppage-time left them desperately hanging on.
Superb backs-to-the-wall defence, however, prevailed in the end and they held out to the final whistle.
‘Maidstone were camped on our line for the last 10 minutes but we stood up to it,’ said Ashley.
The win saw Gosport & Fareham return to London one south at the first time of asking.
After relegation last term, Ashley is convinced his side will be better equipped to cope at the higher level this time around.
‘I like to think we have learned a lot from the last time we were up there,’ said the head coach.
‘We have worked hard as a club to put things right.
‘Last time our pre-season preparations were not good enough.
‘We know player availability will be crucial and we will be looking to enhance our squad.
‘A lot of the younger players we had to blood at London one last time have a years more experience behind them now.
‘We also have another crop of good youngsters coming through.
‘Now we are already looking forward to renewing our derby rivalry against Basingstoke and Havant next season.’