This was a hard-earned victory in very trying conditions. Raiders, playing with 14 men for over 30 minutes in the second half, had not only defended magnificently but had doubled their score during this period.
A great show of spirit, commitment and skill under pressure from a good Bury team and alien conditions under foot. Four points earned away from home is always a pleasing outcome. Thanks as always to the travelling supporters.
This was game 15 of Raiders' league season and it meant a lengthy journey to Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. Raiders’ last game was four weeks ago at Westcliff. The five points they earned there secured them fourth place in the league after the final round of games in 2021. With 16 games still to be played this season Raiders’ target is to put themselves in the best possible position before the restructuring of the leagues at the end of the present campaign. Promotion is still a target but much rugby has to be played before any decisions are made.
Contests with Bury St Edmunds are always exciting ones and after Raiders' home victory early in the season another highly competitive match was in store.
Selection for all teams in the league is now not only dependent on injuries but also, alas, Covid. Thus, no-one can gauge how strong teams might be week by week.
For Raiders, Head Coach Jordan Turner-Hall is away with England U20s at present so the team is in the capable hands of Director of Rugby Rene Draude and Assistant Coach Fred Pierrepont.
This week’s selection had five players involved who did not play at Westcliff. Jerome Rudder and Charlie Spencer return to start on the bench, Max Ravaudet also on the bench and making his debut. Ken Dowding returns to start in the front row and best news for Raiders was that Liam Perkins, one of the best back-row players in the league, was starting his first game of the season after breaking his arm in the final warm-up game back in August 2021.
Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the day was for heavy rain but hopes were high for a fine game of rugby and a win for Raiders.
As kick-off time approached the rain eased off but not until it had turned the pitch into a mudbath. The open, attacking style of play both teams employ was unlikely to be seen. Indeed, the game was to be an old-fashioned forward battle with a few intrusions from the backs.
Raiders kicked off and from this point onwards had territorial advantage for the majority of the first half. After two minutes Matt Mclean missed a difficult penalty attempt from long range but three minutes later was successful with his second attempt and gave the visitors a 3-0 lead. Bury St Edmunds had two difficult penalty attempts in reply but both missed.
Raiders were able to play some good 15-man rugby in the early stages of the game before the pitch cut up badly and made expansive rugby difficult and dangerous as mistakes became inevitable. Despite the conditions both teams handled the ball with skill in the first quarter and in fact the first scrum didn’t occur until sixteen minutes had been played.
In the 23rd minute McLean had another shot at goal, but as he approached the kick it was obvious he was having difficulty getting any rhythm in the mud. The kick missed and the score remained 3-0 to Raiders.
After 28 minutes Bury had a player yellow-carded. With 30 minutes gone Raiders still tried to attack through the backs, a long pass to Harrison Sims was brilliantly scooped up off his bootlaces at pace and after breaking a couple of tackles he was able to release the ball to McLean on the left wing to dive in at the corner. From the relatively firm ground on the touchline, he was able to convert his try to take a 10-0 lead.
During the final ten minutes of the half it was becoming difficult to tell the teams apart as the forwards in particular were all playing in brown! During this period the home side landed two penalties to close the gap to 10-6 to the visitors. Ill discipline at breakdowns had allowed them to get right back in the game just as the half ended. Half time score: Bury St Edmunds 6 Worthing Raiders 10
The home side restarted the game after the interval and were quickly on the attack. The visitors successfully prevented two catch and drives from crossing the line and thus thwarted the home side from scoring any points early in the half. After five minutes Harrison Sims was yellow carded and one minute later Liam Perkins, who was having an outstanding game on his return, was red carded. At this point the game was happening close to the visitors' try line but at a very slow pace with lots of stoppages.
Bury St Edmunds had total control at this point, they had possession, they were camped within five metres of the Raiders’ try line and they had a two-man advantage. However, the visitors dug deep and for more than seven minutes and nearly 30 phases they prevented the home side from crossing their line. A quite brilliant defensive action that gave Raiders the belief to go on and win this game.
With just over a quarter of the game to go the visitors started to use their bench. Fraser Bruce replaced Ken Dowding in the front row and then Jerome Rudder replaced Will Beer on the wing.
It was not until the 21st minute of the half that Raiders ventured into the Bury St Edmunds’ half of the pitch but having got there they made it pay. From a penalty five metres from the Bury try line, rather than risk a scrum, line out or difficult shot at goal, they tapped and charged for the line. They showed excellent control and patience going through 12 phases before Cam Dobinson sent the ball back to Josh Tusler who skirted the defensive efforts of the home side to score close to the posts. With Matt McLean’s conversion a useful gap had opened up at 17-6.
Rob Cuffe and Charlie Spencer replaced Jack Lake and Cam Dobinson for the final 12 minutes. The home side scored an unconverted try after thirty-two minutes closing the gap to 17-11.
Both teams were kicking the ball as far up the field as they could as carrying and passing it was much less likely to make real progress and for Raiders the further the ball was from their goal line the less chance of any long-distance try being scored in these conditions.
With 39 minutes gone the home side conceded a penalty in front of their posts and McLean gladly popped it over to extend the lead to 20-11. Max Ravaudet replaced Elliott Luke for the final moments of the match.
The referee indicated there was time for a restart, Raiders secured possession and attempted to put a few close quarter phases together until time was up. Unfortunately, after several rucks the referee awarded a penalty to the home side and the resulting kick at goal was successful and earned Bury a losing bonus point. The referee blew for full time and Raiders had the victory. Full time score: Bury St Edmunds 14 Worthing Raiders 20
Referee: Peter Caunt
Scorers: Tries: McLean, Tusler. Con: McLean x 2. Pen: McLean x 2
Team: Ken Dowding 2. Elliott Luke 3. Rhys Litterick 4. Jack Lee 5. Jack Lake 6. Liam Perkins 7. Kemp Price – Capt 8. Frank Taggart 9. Cam Dobinson 10. Josh Tusler 11. Matt McLean 12. Harrison Sims 13. Jack Forrest 14. Will Beer 15. Kieran Leeming. Bench: 16. Fraser Bruce 17. Max Ravaudet 18. Rob Cuffe 19. Jerome Rudder 20. Charlie Spencer.