Jacob Ford reflects on Bury St Edmunds Rugby Club’s record fourth tier finish in top five after Henley Hawks final day victory
‘Another big step forward’ – that is how Jacob Ford is beginning to reflect on Bury St Edmunds’ 2022/23 campaign which concluded with a thrilling 41-32 home victory over Henley Hawks on Saturday to leave them celebrating a club record finish.
With Henley having been one place above them in the National League 2 East table prior to kick-off at the Greene King IPA Haberden, the final day result saw the Wolfpack leapfrog them into the top five.
The only disappointment on the day was that the season target of fourth was not achieved due to Worthing managing to beat second-placed Barnes 25-24 on the south coast to end two points clear of Bury.
The fifth-placed finish saw the west Suffolk club beat last season’s record-equalling sixth - recorded in head coach and director of rugby Ford’s first season at the helm in 2021/22 having previously done so in the 2019/20 campaign that finished on a points-per-game formula average due to Covid-19 striking.
It was also a record points total, despite their new division – with National League 2 splitting from two to three regional variants ahead of 2022/23 – seeing them play four less games. Their previous best of 88 was set last term from 30 games while this time around they collected 90 from 26.
“It’s another big step forward for us, especially in terms of the amount of games we won and lost,” said Ford, who is now over in Australia as part of his personal development as part of his role as head of rugby at Ipswich School.
“The bonus points cost us a higher-placed finish. There were a couple of key games at key times in the season where we needed to manage it better.
“I feel like the squad we had and the consistency we had after that half-way mark of the season was probably what we were looking for at the start of the year. So that’s probably something we want to get right in terms of the end of pre-season with a squad that we are going to have for the whole season.”
Saturday’s finale saw the last outing in Bury colours for half-a-dozen players in Yasin Browne, who earned his 100th cap earlier this season, as well as Ciaran Leeson, Toby Hill, Rob Conquest, Craig Stevenson and Harry Hall.
Winger Leeson, who broke through the 50 appearance marker for the team in January, delivered a memorable final display to say farewell to the large home crowd with two second-half tries seeing Bury overturn a 25-15 deficit to a 41-32 victory.
After being awarded a penalty try a few minutes in, no8 Stevenson marked his final outing with an unconverted try to extend the lead to 12-3 following a Max Titchener penalty.
A technical infringement led to a penalty try for Hawks and, despite Bury increasing their lead via Charlie Reed’s penalty kick, another penalty try against them and a score for Ewan Fenley, following a scrum, led to them falling 10 behind at the turnaround.
The second period was more enjoyable for the home crowd though as Leeson broke through for the first of his two tries, sandwiched between one for fellow deaprtee Conquest, with Reed’s boot adding the extras.
Hawks did hit back with a try for a converted try for William Crow but Conquest ended his Bury spell on a high with his second, with Reed converting.
Ford said: “It was a good way to round off the season, it was a high-scoring game with a lot of emotion in the game so it was a good spectacle for the big crowd that we had there.
“Fourth place wasn’t meant to be with things not quite going our way and I think actually if you look at the way the league table has finished it’s actually bonus points which has cost us.
“We’ve got a better win record than the third-placed team but actually the bonus points, especially losing bonus points, is what has really cost us, especially in the earlier part of the season.
“It was a great day though and a good performance.”
He also paid tribute to the departing players.
“Those players have given a lot to the club, especially Yasin and Toby.
“It’s one of those where it was sad for them more than anything else, but we just wanted to give them the best experience we possibly could in the final game and I thought we did that, and we certainly wish them all the best.”