WORTHING Raiders Rugby Club slipped from the top of National 2 South on Saturday, leaving head coach Kieron Dawson expecting a tight promotion battle in the second half of the season.
Raiders’ stay at the top lasted just a week after they went down at the expense of Old Albanians’ bonus-point victory at Roundstone Lane – which saw the visitors close the gap on the top four teams.
Just nine points separate the top five clubs now. Richmond lead the pack with 63 points, with their 35-35 draw at Lydney enough to see them climb back to the top, with Raiders in second, two points behind.
A victory on Saturday could have seen Raiders open up a gap at the top, which made the defeat all the more disappointing, despite an injury-riddled side.
Dawson said: “We came up against a very strong and experienced Old Albanians side. They had a lot of nous and played and defended very well.
“What is more worrying is that they are starting to creep up the table now. It is going to be a very tight run-in, although one we are looking forward to.
“We need to tighten up, though, as we have done ourselves no favours with this result.
“It’s no surprise Albanians have started to climb the table and they will be in the mix come the end of the season.
“There is no shame in losing to them, but we need to pick ourselves up for another important game at Redruth on Saturday.”
That may not be as easy as it sounds against the sixth-placed hosts with Raiders in injury crisis.
Sam Hewick does return from suspension, although Charlie McGowan is sidelined after his red card last week against Taunton.
James Arthur is still out, while Rob Smith, Jamie Redmayne and Alex Wilcockson all have injuries which look set to rule them out, and a number of other players are among the walking wounded.
Dawson added: “There are a lot of tired and bruised bodies out there at the moment and the depth of the squad is being tested quite severely.”
Albanians made the perfect start on Saturday after just two minutes when Chris May made ground, passed to Bomber Lombaard who fed inside centre, Lawrence Rayner, to score under the posts, with Richard Gregg adding the extras.
Matt McLean slotted over a penalty five minutes later, but a Gregg penalty, another Rayner try and Gregg conversion put the visitors 17-3 ahead before the 20-minute mark.
Alex Neilsen reduced the arears to 17-8 when he touched down after a cross-field kick before the break.
Albanians extended their lead on 49 minutes when Luke O’Keefe completed a 40-metre dash and Gregg added the extras.
Gregg notched a penalty four minutes later, followed by a try from Paul Gustard as Gregg again put the ball between the posts.
Despite Pete Cleveland picking up a yellow card on 64 minutes, Joe Govett pulled a try back for Raiders, but Albanians were to have the last word as James Shanahan crossed under the posts for Gregg to easily kick the conversion and seal a 16-point personal haul.