WORTHING Raiders Rugby Club head coach Kieron Dawson has backed his side to lick their wounds and bounce back from their title torment in a promotion play-off at Stourbridge on Saturday.
Raiders missed out on the National 2 South title and automatic promotion as they were defeated 55-27 in a dramatic final-day title shoot-out at Henley on Saturday.
The Roundstone Lane club will now have another bite at the cherry on Saturday when they travel to Stourbridge to fight it out in a promotion play-off with the National 2 North side, who also finished runners-up.
Dawson admitted he was proud of his players who kept fighting for the whole match, egged on by a huge travelling support, against a ferocious Hawks side.
The battered and bruised Raiders – who were already without most-recent injury victim, captain Matt Miles, and the suspended Charlie McGowan at Henley – must re-group before the weekend, although have now lost Dawson, after a cameo role off the bench, to a broken thumb, and Alex Nielsen was helped off late on with an extremely swollen hand.
Dawson said: “It was disappointing more than heartbreaking as we always knew we were going to be up against it and underdogs going up there with the injuries, suspension and things.
“We still were brilliant and controlled the opening 15 to 20 minutes, but the penalty try and sin-binning when we were 7-0 up cost us. They scored 21 points in that 10-minute period and it swung the game.
“They scored two quick tries and the whole reflexion of the game completely changed, we’d gone to chasing the game, rather than controlling it. Unfortunately, that came down to a referee decision and it was the same referee that was heavily criticised for his performance at Launceston two weeks ago.
“We have got to take our hats off to Henley, though, they were bigger and stronger. We played very well, though, and even right at the end when we scored with 10 to go and were 20 points down, we genuinely thought we had a chance.
“We had them under pressure but they turned over the ball, went the length of the pitch and scored.
“We by no means let ourselves down and, although it was hard for us, still confidence is high and the chance is there at the weekend. We need to lick our wounds, dust ourselves off and get back on the training pitch this week.”
Meticulous planning of every possible outcome had seen Raiders already have their homework done on their potential play-off opponents if the Henley result went against them.
Dawson added: “Matt McLean and Matt Farnes travelled up to Stourbridge on our weekend off and took a video and put a report together on them for us. A good thing is they may think they have a good knowledge of us, but the way we play is very unpredictable, so that gives us an edge.”
Raiders are hoping that after an X-ray to Nielsen’s hand showed no break, that he will be fit for the weekend.