WORTHING Rugby Club had to settle for two bonus points as they suffered a disappointing 32-27 defeat at home to Henley Hawks this afternoon.
Raiders - who were lacklustre for much of the game - trailed 32-8 with 14 minutes remaining, but touched down three late tries to salvage two points and almost cap a remarkable comeback.
Hawks, who pipped Raiders to the National 2 South title last season, were relieved to eventually hear the full-time whistle as Raiders well were in the ascendency.
Ultimately, two points will be gratefully collected by Raiders, but without a number of costly errors after a poor first-half showing, it could have been there third consecutive victory in National 1.
Henley took the lead on six minutes as a good move with quick hands from Martin Nutt and Liam O’Neill picked out Danny Wells and with Raiders outnumber, he shifted to Christoph Bart on the overlap, who raced home on the right.
A sustained period off pressure for Raiders - with a number of hard drives from Charlie McGowan and Matt Miles amongst others - was held off by the Henley defence, but play was pulled back for a Worthing advantage; they opted to kick and Joe Govett slotted over the penalty over on 18 minutes.
A promising break from Liam Perkins after a scrum in Worthing’s 22 was cut short as he slipped on his pass and Sam Hewick knocked on trying to take the difficult ball.
From that penalty, Hawks kept the ball and the powerful Will Woodward built up some pace on the right, palmed off a tackle from McGowan and galloped over despite a late desperate attempt from Ben Dudley.
James Comben’s kick this time was on the money and took the score to 12-3 on 27 minutes.
Three more from the boot of Comben extended Henley’s lead after a infringement by the hosts, who themselves passed up the opportunity to pull three back before half-time.
A number of driving runs from Miles, McGowan and Govett gained precious yards before the ball was switched all the way across to Alex Nielsen, who crashed into the corner flag. Play, however, was brought back for offside.
Raiders kicked for touched, won the line-out and continued an assault on the Henley line, before they were awarded a penalty under the posts. They decided against kicking for the points, opting instead for the scrum from which they lost the ball and the chance was gone.
Worthing - no doubt with some choice words ringing in their ears - started the half on the front foot, and, after a line out, Dudley and Govett, picked each other out and the latter saw Miles’ run and he raced home.
Govett’s kick for the extras was unsuccessful, while back at the other end the trusty Comben soon added another three points for Henley from another penalty to take the score to 18-8.
Henley added their third try of the afternoon on 53 minutes as the Raiders’ defence split and Comben ghosted through to cross by the posts before adding the simple conversion to make it 25-8.
A trademark Nielsen run from his own half saw the winger dart into opposition territory and kick forwards, Govett then collected the Henley clearance, but the ball was again gifted away by a knock on.
Henley secured a bonus point on 66 minutes with their fourth try and one that summed up Worthing’s day so far. Kieran Leeming was slow to pick up a kick forwards and Comben, who had made an ambitious run, dived and managed to just ground the ball.
Comben again added the extras for a 32-8 lead, although there was to be late hope for Worthing.
McGowan broke forwards and raced into the Hawks half and Nielsen, who was in support, completed a fine run in under the posts with Dudley adding the extras on 70 minutes.
Three minutes later and with Worthing in the ascendency, Chris Sewell found a gap and screamed home to cross on the left to pull the score back to 32-20.
With three minutes left, Worthing’s fourth try secured a bonus point with an excellent flowing move where Scott Barlow and Ollie Richards played crucial parts as Nielsen eventually stretched across in the corner.
A superb conversion from the left boot of Finlay Coxon-Smith brought the score to within just five points, but time ran out for the home side as the match finished with a misplaced pass into touch.
Full report and reaction in this week’s paper on Thursday.
WORTHING: Leeming, Coxon-Smith, O.Richards, K.Richards, Nielsen, Dudley, Govett, Cleveland, Miles, Burns, Barlow, McGowan, Redmayne, Hewick, Perkins. Subs: Sewell (Hewick 63), O’Sullivan (Burns 40), Greenwood, Pointing (Redmayne, Cleveland 52), Gaynor (Govett 68).