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Optimism in defeat from ex-pro Ben Cooper as Bury St Edmunds RUFC narrowly defeated at second-placed Henley

Forwards coach Ben Cooper was optimistic in defeat, as Bury St Edmunds fell to a narrow 21-18 loss away to second-placed Henley in the National League 2 South on Saturday.

The former professional prop felt the result demonstrated the eighth-placed squad’s ability to compete with the division’s best, an important lesson ahead of this weekend’s home game.

Bury will host league leaders Tonbridge Juddians at the GK IPA Haberden on Saturday (3pm - not 2pm, as printed in the paper) in the second of back-to-back fixtures against the top sides.

Bury fell to the narrowest of defeats at Henley. Pictured: Mike Stanway during the Taunton Titans match. PICTURE: Mecha Morton. (23787648)
Bury fell to the narrowest of defeats at Henley. Pictured: Mike Stanway during the Taunton Titans match. PICTURE: Mecha Morton. (23787648)

“We put in a strong 75-minute performance at Henley,” he said. “But the amount of effort took its toll with fatigue and we were unlucky to concede two late tries.

“But there were so many positives, and it shows we are not the underdog team in the division; we may have been beaten but not by much, we’re not getting thrashed.

“And we’re unbeaten at home this season, which means we’re making it very difficult for teams to come here. We will again this Saturday.”

Bury St Edmunds lie eighth ahead of their final home match of the season, which will also double up as the club’s Christmas Party, an occasion both supporters and players look forward to.

But they must first attempt to stretch their winning run at home to seven league outings, before settling down to enjoy the festive atmosphere.

“There is a desire to end the year well and win the final home game,” Ben Cooper added. “Then we have a big Christmas Party; we’re on a good run at home so we really want to keep that going.

“Knowing we’re unbeaten here does add a bit of pressure, we don’t want to lose that, but that’s what we play sport for after all.

“We’re currently eighth, but we have a game in hand and so our league position is not fully accurate, it doesn’t show how good we are.

“If we can keep up with performances like last time, we will be finishing in the top half, even top five is not unrealistic.

“Although the Tonbridge game isn’t going to define our season, it is important we follow up on the Henley performance.”

It was one that left Bury scratching their heads in confusion, after suffering a heartbreaking late defeat on Saturday.

With a little over 10 minutes to go, the Wolfpack led 18-7 and, with Henley reduced to 14 men, a notable scalp was on the horizon against the team in second. But, instead, a culmination of errors led to the win being snatched away.

Henley finished strongly by pounding the Bury line until it cracked and let in two late scores to send the Wolfpack home with just a losing bonus point for their efforts.

Bury had begun on the front foot and, for the first 25 minutes, were in the ascendency.

The first chance to open Bury’s account fell to Kodie Hawkins, only for his penalty to come back off the post. Bury were in no mood to let the early setback get to them though and, on 25 minutes, they prised open the defence.

Alfie Garside won the race to his clever kick to score in the left corner. But 5-0 was scant reward for their fine play and the lead lasted no more than five minutes, with Henley showing just how good they are with a converted try.

The score galvanised Henley and, for the closing minutes of the half, they were in charge. Bury’s defence stood firm and the teams headed for the changing rooms with the score 7-5 in Henley’s favour.

The half-time break saw the light and temperature drop, but Bury turned up the heat from the off and were twice denied a score inches from the line. Henley’s desperate defence resulted in injuries to both of their second rows and both players had to be substituted.

Bury then earned a penalty at the resulting 5m scrum and elected to take a lineout with Tom Milosevic driven over by a rampant pack.

Hawkins could not convert from the touchline but he was successful on 50 minutes with a penalty from 35 metres edging Bury 13-7 ahead.

Henley hooker Tom Emery was then sent off for something he said to referee George Richardson after a promising Henley attack was held up by the Bury defence.

It was all there for Bury; a man down, both starting second rows off the pitch and Henley rocking and, when Bury extended their lead to 18-7 just before the hour mark, courtesy of a Garside second score, it seemed the game was in the bag.

But, having turned the ball over on 71 minutes, Bury chose to box kick. The kick did not travel far enough and led to a converted try for a 18-14 score.

Henley had their tails up with a comeback win on the cards, combined with a tired Bury side, led to a dramatic score to steal the lead 19–18, with the conversion good for an extra two points. Bury looked stunned to have seen their promising position collapse so quickly and so close to the end of the match.