Portsmouth displayed all the battling qualities they will need to survive in London one south despite losing 27-11 against high-flying Old Elthamians at Rugby Camp.
After a difficult opening 20 minutes, the city club’s pack, magnificently led by captain Greg Hoolihan, raised their game to give the title-chasing visitors a torrid time.
Hoolihan, playing his 100th league game, was an inspiration as he drove his fellow forwards back into the game.
It was no more than the home side deserved when Jason Crabb stormed over for a 53rd minute try to give them an 11-10 lead and they looked as if they could go on and shock their title-chasing opponents.
However, a lapse in concentration just three minutes later allowed Old Elthamians danger-man Tom White to race through the home defence and score a converted try under the posts.
There was no way back after that and, as the hosts tired in the closing stages, the Kent side confirmed their win with a further penalty and converted try.
‘The final scoreline flattered them to be fair,’ said Portsmouth coach Ian Chandler.
‘We asked for an improved performance after last week’s disappointment at Trojans and we got one.
‘The hard work put in on trying to become more resilient and mentally strong showed today.
‘As a side we came back well and losing was all down to a couple of mistakes after getting into an 11-10 lead.
‘Old Elthamians showed just why they are third in the league.
‘You only had to hear the various accents in their team to realise that they are a semi-professional outfit against our truly amateur side and I thought we equipped ourselves really well.’
The opening quarter of the contest was tough for Chandler’s men as Old Elthamians soon established a 10-point lead through a converted try and a penalty.
Heads didn’t drop, though, and the forwards showed real character to bounce back and gain the upper hand.
Andy Barnes knocked over a penalty before half-time and added another soon after the break.
Crabb’s try was a superbly worked effort, with number eight Luke Richardson, scrum-half Titch O’Connor and Hoolihan linking at the back of a scrum to send Lee Chandler up the blindside.
The centre burst between two defenders and superbly offloaded the ball to Crabb, who burst up in support on his inside to gallop clear of the defence.
Joy was shortlived, though, as just three minutes later White delivered the vital score for the visitors.
‘Their try straight after we’d got our noses in front was the killer blow,’ said Chandler.
‘We had them nailed on the halfway line but all of a sudden we missed their winger and gave him 20 yards.
‘Then we were chasing the game again after working hard to get the lead.
‘It was a bad tackle to miss and you have got to make your one-on-one tackles.
‘Most would agree that we deserved to pick up a losing bonus point so their final score was hard to take.
‘Our forwards played out of their skins and all put their bodies on the line.
‘At start of the second half we rocked them back and that’s how we can play in patches for most games.
‘The problem is we haven’t managed to play like that for a whole game.
‘The important thing was the performance which shows that we can compete against the top sides.
‘That should boost our confidence ahead of the crucial games ahead because we have to make sure that we stay in this league.’