Raiders happy to be in top half

RAIDERS should raise a glass to being in the top half of the National Two South at Christmas, according to their coach.

Raiders scrum-half Charlie Simmonds making a break against Canterbury on Saturday. (Picture by Mike Marshall, 30326331)
Raiders scrum-half Charlie Simmonds making a break against Canterbury on Saturday. (Picture by Mike Marshall, 30326331)

Any festive merriment must be tempered, though, with Jordan Reynolds wanting his players to return in the best possible shape for the new year fixture backlog.

Guernsey’s director of rugby insisted he was ‘absolutely’ satisfied with his side’s eighth place going into the Christmas break having played 13 games of their second foray into level four of the RFU league structure in what is proving to be a highly-competitive division.

Raiders were scheduled to have played half of their 30 league matches by now, but with weather causing the postponement of their trip to Esher last month before Bury St Edmunds put their trip to the island on hold due to Covid, there is a busy beginning to 2022 in store – the pandemic permitting.

‘We have got two games that we need to catch up on and if we won one of those – and, meaning no disrespect, I would back us against Bury St Edmunds most times at home – we would be a lot higher than what we are,’ Reynolds said.

‘In general, if you compare it to the last time we were in National Two, I think we are doing well.

‘Our assessment is based on what we set out to achieve and that was to show purpose and that we have enough quality to stay in National Two.

‘There will always be some disappointment in the squad that there are games that have got away from us, but that’s sport.

‘We will give the players time off over Christmas, but we will ask them to do some personal conditioning because we need to make sure we are fitter – that will be really important for us.’

Having won seven of their first eight fixtures, Raiders’ form has dropped off with just one more win registered from the next five league games played, but Reynolds is adamant that, barring perhaps one performance, they have been competitive each time they play, with the tight games going against them of late whereas they had been edging them earlier in the campaign.

He certainly felt that to be the case in the 29-17 defeat at Canterbury on Saturday when conditions were, in his words, ‘horrible’.

The muddy pitch was tacky underfoot and the ground was covered in a low fog that made it virtually impossible to see one side of the pitch from the other at times.

‘It was a tough day to play on, but I think it suited Canterbury down to the ground because they are very forward-orientated. When it gets to January and February, I think they will win a lot of games,’ said Reynolds.

‘We were probably losing 5-6kg per forward against their pack. In the dry we would have run them around, but there was not much more we could do in those conditions.

‘The analysis we had on them was spot on, we knew what they were going to do, but sometimes it is still hard to stop because as soon as you make a mistake, they pounce on it and it is really hard to scramble in defence when you are on the back foot like that.

‘Although I’m disappointed we lost, I don’t feel disappointed in how we played.’

Reynolds went on to explain that one of his side’s main objectives of the day was to have at least 50% of possession and they achieved that, using it to create opportunities.

‘We looked threatening the whole time and the contest itself was pretty tight throughout.

‘We dominated the set-piece against a bigger pack because our guys were so much smarter in what they did. We probably dominated the collisions, too, but they just pounced on our errors.’

Guernsey scored tries through Anthony Armstrong, Owen Thomas and Doug Horrocks while at least three of the five tries they conceded could be described as against the run of play, although he praised the clinical nature of the opposition to capitalise.

As for individual performances, Reynolds reserved praise for a couple of his back row.

‘Dom Rice defensively was immense and you could see how much we missed him against OA while Doug Horrocks in attack was a standout, but to be fair all the players were effective.’

Raiders are scheduled to be back in action at home to Rochford Hundred on Saturday 8 January, which will be the first of three successive home fixtures, Covid-permitting.

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