Game 29, the penultimate match of the season and Worthing Raiders complete their away fixtures at Dings Crusaders in Bristol.
Both sides have been battling to avoid dropping into the relegation zone over the last few weeks thus a great deal depended on the result of this match. For Raiders one point to be mathematically safe and for Dings Crusaders a win to stave off the charge of Birmingham & Solihull.
Selection problems hampered Raiders yet again, Tom Miller, Tom Gwyther, Kiba Richards, Will Grief all unavailable through injury and the late withdrawal of Dave Winsor on Saturday morning. On the positive side John Dawe returned from his exploits on the Sevens’ Circuit, most recently in Hong Kong last weekend, Kieran Sassone returned to the squad after several weeks out injured, Michael Dingle and Sam Cook returned to take places in the team and on the bench respectively. Charlie Spencer had a late call up to the bench to make his debut for Raiders.
The new facilities at Dings are second to none and the artificial pitch was ideal for a fast open game on this lovely, sunny afternoon.
Dings kicked off with the wind at their backs but it was the visitors who were first into their stride as John Dawe and George Harris created a turnover in centre field which allowed the ball to be moved through the hands down the left hand side of the pitch, Harry Forrest gave the final pass to Curtis Barnes who outstripped the cover defence to score. Matt McLean converted to give the visitors the early lead, 0-7.
The home side immediately got into an attacking position deep in Raiders’ territory and a penalty try was awarded and Rob Cuffe received a yellow card, 7-7.
Whilst down to fourteen men Dings scored another converted try to lead 14-7.
Jon Whittall left the game injured at the end of the first quarter so Jordan Gibson came on at hooker and Elliott Luke went into the back row.
Things started to look bleak for Raiders as Dings scored two more tries to stretch their lead to 26-7 with only half an hour played.
With 35 minutes gone Raiders had a penalty on their own ten metre line, the kick to touch failed to go off the field and Dings tried to launch an attack from their twenty two metre line. In their efforts to move the ball across the field a long, loopy pass was brilliantly intercepted by Jack Forrest who ran in unopposed to record the visitors’ second try. With the successful conversion from Matt McLean the gap was closed to 26-14.
As the end of the half approached Raiders were having the best of the possession and territory but couldn’t achieve any further score.
Raiders kicked off to restart the game after the interval but quickly found themselves on defensive duties on their own twenty two metre line. A scrum was awarded to the visitors and although it was only twenty metres from the left touch line four backs were lined up on the blind side. With the ball won comfortably Matt Walsh gave the first pass to Matt McLean who in turn fed to John Dawe who burst through the attempted tackles and released Jack Forrest who sprinted forty metres to score in the corner. Matt McLean converted from the touchline 26-21.
It didn’t take long for the visitors to move into the lead. With the same set up as the previous try, Raiders put four backs on the blind side of a scrum and again ran the ball to the narrow side. This time a grubber kick beat the onrushing tacklers and Jack Forrest collected it and gave a well-timed pass to John Dawe who sprinted the final forty metres to score the vital fourth try thus earning the all-important bonus point. Again Matt converted to bring the score to 26-28.
The early euphoria of the Dings’ crowd had suddenly vanished. Then after sixty nine minutes Matt McLean kicked a long range penalty to extend the lead to 26-31. At this point the home crowd, a lot like Raiders’ crowds in recent weeks, were going through nervous times.
There was still plenty of belief and fight left in the home side and after George Harris was yellow carded for an offence at a maul they scored another converted try from a catch and drive and thus retook the lead at 33-31.
The travelling supporters could clearly be heard urging the Raiders on and in the seventy fifth minute they were rewarded when Jack Maslen finished a period of good ball retention to outstrip the defence and score in the corner. The conversion went narrowly wide but the lead had again returned to Raiders at 33-36.
The final minutes were nervous for both sets of supporters but in the end Raiders kept control of the ball and ran the clock down with the forwards keeping the ball in close quarter drives. As soon as time was up Matt Walsh kicked the ball off the field and the whistle went for the full time.
Final Score: Dings Crusaders 33 Worthing Raiders 36
An excellent win on the road for Raiders. As results in other games went the two points earned by Dings were enough to ensure they also remain in National Two South.
Raiders have done exactly what they had to in the last three games. Collecting 13 points from a possible 15.
Now that they have booked their place in National Two South for next season they can look forward to the final home game against Taunton Titans in two weeks.
The support on the road has been tremendous throughout the season, even when the team was clearly underperforming. Many, many thanks to all who have travelled the length and breadth of the country to follow the Raiders.
Referee: James Milliner-Woodcock
Scorers: Tries: Barnes, Forrest J x 2, Dawe, Maslen
Cons: Matt McLean x 4
Pens: Matt McLean x 1
Team: 1. Henry Birch (Cook 63 mins) 2. Elliott Luke (Litterick 49 mins) 3. Kieran Sassone 4. Michael Dingle 5. Rob Cuffe 6. Jack Lake 7. George Harris 8. John Whittall (Gibson 20 mins)
9. Matt Walsh – captain 10. Matt McLean 11. Curtis Barnes (Spencer 74 mins) 12. John Dawe 13. Jack Forrest 14. Jack Maslen 15. Harry Forrest (Holt 65 mins) Bench: 16. Jordan Gibson 17. Rhys Litterick 18. Sam Cook 19. Charlie Spencer 20. Ben Holt