Next season there will be no surprises and no excuses, insists the head coach of Huntingdon & District, Damien Whales, after Stags survived a fleeting encounter with the relegation zone, living to fight another campaign in the Midlands One East division.
Huntingdon ended their season with a disappointing 54-10 defeat at Old Northamptonians on Saturday but staved off relegation with a 34-14 against Newark the previous Saturday. Now Whales says next season will feel different.
“My overall reaction is that of a mix of relief and frustration,” he said. “I am relieved that we managed to fairly comfortably avoid relegation – but frustrated it ever became possible. We are a very inexperienced side.
“The jump from the lower league was significant, more in terms of physicality than anything else – therefore the amount of hard-fought and difficult games seemed almost never ending.”
Huntingdon finished 10th in the 14-team division, winning 10 of their 26 games, drawing one and losing 15. It was their first season in the division after promotion from Midlands Two South East.
“Having played a year at this level the players, the club and the coaches have learnt a great deal,” said Whales. “The conclusions are clear – as a side we must improve both our physical and mental strength.
“We have had a season of not scoring enough points and making too many unforced errors. Far too often we have been our own enemy.
“We have scored an average of 18 points per game and conceded 25. Clearly this makes life difficult and the final league standings do paint a very honest picture.
“Next season will feel different. There will be no surprises and no excuses.
“Leighton Buzzard have come up and they were the best side we played last year by some distance. Bedford Athletic have come down. There are some big sides joining the league.
“And, with Peterborough Lions going up, we are going to be nicely poised to attract players that want to play a good standard but don’t want the increased travel of National Three.
“We have some positions in the squad where we are in need of improvement.”
Whales did highlight some of the players he felt had done well this season, despite its disappointing climax. He said: “Dan Malem scored more than 200 points – the majority with his boot, while Jordan Crowe was outstanding as an 18-year-old in his first year of English rugby.
“Ben Strangeways has proved that there is no substitute for hard work and has had an excellent season, while Doug Bentley has captained the side fantastically throughout the season.”