RELEGATED Chippenham contrived to blow a 27-0 lead in the final quarter as Cheltenham visitors Old Patesians produced a stunning turnaround to secure their own National Three South West future at Allington Field.
Danny Thomas’ home side, whose demotion to South West level was confirmed by the previous week’s hammering at champions Lydney, were by some margin the better side for the first hour of the match and appeared to be cruising towards only their fifth win of the campaign.
Instead, they inexplicably allowed the visitors back into the contest, a last-gasp penalty from James Butler handing Pats a comeback victory they could scarcely believe themselves.
There was little sign of the drama to come in the final 20 minutes as Chippenham, backed by a strong breeze, swept all before them in the opening half.
Early pressure brought the first points as fly-half Lewis Surry landed a penalty on five minutes and the first try followed seven minutes later as prop Ben Riley grabbed a Pats overthrow at a lineout and charged forward, the ball being recycled for centre Fraser Clilverd to touch down, Surry adding the conversion.
The visitors were also reduced to 14 men by the sin-binning of flanker Aaron Ryan – watched from behind the posts by his father, the Worcester Warriors director of rugby Dean Ryan – and with Chippenham continuing to dominate, they added a second try before the interval.
Pats were turned over after being driven back and Clilverd had a virtual stroll to the line, Surry adding an excellent conversion.
A strong start to the second half saw Chippenham add their third try, the initial drive off a lineout being held up, before skipper Ian Cook got the touch down on the next.
And the match appeared done and dusted shortly before the 50-minute mark as Cook and Nick Aston drove into the heart of the Patesians defence before the ball was spun wide for wing Steve Barber to finish with ease.
That should have been that, but Patesians’ dominance in the scrummage started to pay dividends as they drove the hosts back and, after several phases, Butler scampered over and converted himself.
He repeated the trick seven minutes later as the game started to become fractious.
Still, Chippenham could have sealed victory with a spell of pressure in the Pats 22, but the visitors broke out and scrum-half Joe Hoyle escaped the defence to score a third and really start the home nerves jangling.
Incredibly, the Gloucestershire side added a fourth try and Ryan barged over from close range, but there was more drama as Butler missed the chance to put his side in front with the conversion.
Referee David Metcalfe signalled that time was almost up from the restart, but Patesians relentlessly drove deep into Chippenham territory and the home side conceded a penalty right in front of the posts, allowing Butler the snatch victory with the final kick of the game.
Chippenham: 15 Jon Squire, 14 Ryan Surry, 13 Fraser Clilverd, 12 Brad Doggett, 11 Steve Barber, 10 Lewis Surry, 9 Sam Alford, 1 Ben Riley, 2 Liam Snape, 3 Luke Corbett, 4 Matt Bye, 5 Ian Cook, 6 Chris Day, 7 Nick Aston, 8 Bobby Lyons.
Replacements: Dom Riccio, Aarom Clark. Will Waddington.
REACTION TO CHIPPENHAM'S DEFEAT AND ALL THE WEEK'S RUGBY IN THURSDAY'S GAZETTE & HERALD