Dramatic victory against Hadleigh has fired hopes of promotion for “hungry” Thetford RUFC
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Promotion hopes have been fired up for Thetford, after the Eastern Counties Two title race was 'thrown wide open'.
Those are the thoughts of Thetford's head coach Keith Rix, who is enjoying a strong first season since joining from Beccles last summer.
The former Diss forward's side were in second place going into their clash with third-placed Hadleigh on Saturday but have seen their league position considerably strengthened by their 25-20 victory.
Leaders Thurston lost their first match of the season, being beaten 14-10 at fourth-placed Norwich Medics, to see Thetford reduce their lead to five points.
'I was very mindful that our two defeats were very close games, at Hadleigh 11-10 and the other at Thurston (15-7) was basically down to experience because we were beaten by a set-play,' Rix said.
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'So we have worked very hard in those areas to catch up to those two clubs and on Saturday I was aware that Medics are very strong and I thought they would beat Thurston, and with us beating Hadleigh, the title race has been thrown wide open.'
Rix's young side took on Hadleigh in front of a big crowd at Two Mile Bottom, thanks to a large vice-president's luncheon, and saw a try from winger Josh Clark converted by fly-half Harry Stenton, who then kicked a penalty to send the teams in level at 10-10 at half-time
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In the second half Stenton converted a try from Zak Pizzey to put Thetford 17-15 ahead and then took his tally to 10 points with a penalty to level the scores at 20-20.
A dramatic finish then saw Thetford grab the win after Matt Briggs opted to kick a late penalty into the corner and a Thetford maul was halted yards short of the try-line.
An excellent pass from Briggs out to Stenton then opened up the tiring Hadleigh defence and the ball moved through the backs to create an overlap and a deft pass from full-back Ryan Gardiner put winger Malik Lock into the corner to score the wining try and seal a thrilling 25-20 triumph.
With Thetford also due to take on Broadland GY in the Norfolk Junior Cup final on April 26, being played at Thetford, the victory has opened up an exciting end to the season.
'Compared to where the club was last season, it's been an 100pc turnaround,' said Rix, who also played for Thetford and was part of the team which won Eastern Counties Two and the Junior Cup in 2008.
'We have somewhere in the region of 45 players playing between the firsts and seconds. When I came across from Diss I brought a superb set of youngsters who were Eastern Counties champions at youth level, who are now in the Thetford first team.
'So the nucleus of the team is under-18, mixed in with the old Thetford lads, who we have tried to bring on and that seems to have worked.'
Rix added: 'A lot of the older Thetford lads have stepped up to the plate so much that when we have got players who are not available, they have shown they can step up and do really well.'
Tomorrow Thetford go in search of their fifth successive league victory when they travel to bottom-of-the-table Felixstowe and Rix is hoping his side can maintain their intensity for the rest of the season.
'With the Junior Cup coming up as well, times are looking good for Thetford,' Rix added. 'Hopefully we can complete our run in and get what's deserved because we are training extremely hard.
'We've got 30 guys training on a Tuesday and a Thursday and the boys are hungry to do well.'