Worthing Raiders Rugby Club ended leaders Henley Hawks’ perfect start to the season in emphatic style on Saturday with a 49-5 win at Roundstone Lane.
Henley had won all nine of their National 2 South matches, with the four-try bonus point in each – but they never got going against a Worthing side, who bounced back from their defeat at fellow high-flyers Shelford the previous week.
Worthing head coach Kieron Dawson believes the performance set a benchmark which his side now have to reach in every game for the rest of the season.
In front of a 900-strong crowd, the home side started brightly and a Joe Govett penalty on nine minutes gave them the lead.
Three minutes later, Raiders suffered a huge blow as Matt McLean dislocated his right ankle and broke his right leg when he tried to tackle a Henley player near where Worthing physio Tim Eden was treating Kiba Richards for an injury. Referee Robert Warburton did not stop play as Henley broke forward towards Richards and Eden, which infuriated Dawson as he felt play should have stopped through safety to the players.
With McLean and Richards both down, Henley spread the play and former Raider Richard Briggs touched down in the corner to give the visitors the lead.
It quickly became apparent that McLean was seriously injured and play was stopped for 32 minutes as he was treated on the pitch, before an ambulance came on to the pitch to take him to hospital.
The game restarted with a missed Henley conversion and, from that moment, a fired-up Raiders side took complete control. Henley did not help themselves as Danny Wells was sinbinned for deliberate obstruction on 16 minutes and Raiders touched down twice during his 10 minutes off the pitch.
Rob Smith burst over from a scrum, with Govett adding the extras, and Raiders then went over with an excellent move. Alex Nielsen stormed forward and found Jamie Redmayne, who did well to pass the ball to Matt Farnes, just as he was going to be pushed into touch, and Farnes went over in the corner to make the score 15-5.
Another Govett penalty soon increased Raiders’ lead and Govett then scored a brilliant individual try. He skipped past two players and kicked the ball over the last Henley man, before bursting through to go over and the conversion made the half-time score 25-5.
The first half lasted 77 minutes and Raiders came out wearing their pink change strip in the second half and the visitors changed to yellow tops incase the light began to fade.
Worthing carried on where they left off from the first half as Henley barely got a sniff of adding any more points to their total.
A quick passing move on 43 minutes ended with Nielsen sealing the four-try bonus point and Govett added the conversion and then a penalty to make the score 35-5.
Man-of-the-match Ben Dudley touched down in the corner on 55 minutes and Govett superbly converted.
Charlie McGowan went over three minutes later after Smith’s break forward and Govett again added the extras as Worthing won for the fifth successive home league match.
Dawson said: “Our mindset all week was to win the game and it was pretty close to a perfect performance.
“I’ve said after some games this season that we’ve only been playing third gear but we went through fourth and played at fifth gear today. The defence was the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here and they only scored when we had two players down injured.
“It sends out a message to the league and is a benchmark that I expect us to meet in every game now. On some forums, people have been saying we’re soft, so let’s see what they think about this result.
“I take my hat off to the players for the way they played after Matt’s injury. It’s very difficult when you lose a player to a serious injury as they had to re-focus and I can’t praise them enough.
“I thought Henley’s tactics were strange and their game plan was quite arrogant. They thought they could play how they have all season but that won’t work against a side who are well drilled and committed.”
Raiders travel to lowly Southend for a 3pm kick-off on Saturday.
RAIDERS: McLean, Maslen, Richards, Clayton, Nielsen, Dudley, Govett; Cleveland, Miles, McIntyre, Barlow, McGowan, Redmayne, Hewick, Smith. Subs: Farnes (McLean 12), Lanaway (McIntyre 18), Leeming (Dudley 59), Arthur (Hewick 67), Pointing (Miles 70).