Published: 19:10, 04 May 2019
| Updated: 18:47, 06 May 2019
Canterbury will play in rugby's third tier for the first time in their history after winning their promotion play-off against Chester.
Andy Pratt's side booked their place in National League 1 with a 19-10 win at the Marine Travel Ground on Saturday and will now rub shoulders with the likes of Sale, Rosslyn Park, Moseley and Kent rivals Old Elthamians and Blackheath.
The hosts trailed until just before half-time but Dan Smart's try, converted by Harvey Young, gave them an interval lead, and JJ Murray's excellent interception try on the hour – also converted by Young – provided them with breathing space.
Forward Sam Rogers crossed to extend the lead shortly after and although Chester grabbed a last-gasp reply, it was too little too late.
The play-off encounter, watched by a record crowd of around 1,650, paired Canterbury, runners-up in National 2 South, with the team who finished second in the northern division.
Canterbury went into the game as favourites, having won 16 of their previous 17 home matches – the only defeat coming in the final game of the regular season, to champions Rams.
No northern side had ever won a National 2 play-off away from home, and the last time a side from National 2 North sealed promotion via the play-off was in 2015 when Ampthill defeated Bishop’s Stortford.
Canterbury did most of the early pressing with Young slotting a penalty wide and Chester had barely been out of their half when they went ahead midway through the half.
Flanker Mike Craven climaxed a brief spell of pressure close to the Canterbury line by forcing his way over for a try given only after the referee and his touch judge had consulted.
Canterbury responded with Murray just unable to take Smart's pass with the line beckoning and Tom Best almost finding a way through before the home side thought they had drawn level only forreferee Charlie Gayther to say he could not tell if the ball had been grounded amid a mass of bodies.
The reprieve proved only temporary for Chester though as scrum-half Smart spotted a gap to dart over from close range in the closing seconds of the half.
Young converted, and, after a half-time hailstorm had enlivened the playing surface, the home side looked to continue their momentum.
A yellow card to Chester prop Rhodri Parry did not help the visitors and, as Canterbury looked to capitalise a good opportunity went begging when Ricky Mackintosh was unable to gather in Smart's long pass.
The game remained in the balance at this stage until centre Murray read a Chester pass deep inside his own half and then outsprinted several visiting opponents to run in under the posts for an outstanding try.
Young's conversion moved Canterbury 14-5 ahead and the game was up for the visitors minutes later when replacement Aiden Moss was held up just short of the line but had the presence of mind to get a pass out to flanker Rogers who went over to make it 19-5.
To their credit Chesterstaged a late rally which was rewarded when full-back Sean Green went over in the corner. The missed conversion proved to be the last action of the contest.
Canterbury's win mean they are the fourth team in a row from the south to win the play-offs after Old Albanian, Old Elthamians and Chinnor.
During the regular season they had won 24 of their 30 matches to take second spot on 121 points, one clear of Henley and Tonbridge Juddians.
Canterbury: 1 Cooper, 2 King, 3 Kenny, 4 Cadman, 5 Corker, 6 Rogers, 7 Stapleton, 8 Stephens, 9 Smart, 10 Young, 11 Murray, 12 T.Best, 13 Sterling, 14 Mackintosh, 15 Grimes; Reps; Wake-Smith, Moss, Lusher, Whetton, Braithwaite.