WESTCLIFF’S first team manager Rick Compton was left ‘encouraged but frustrated’ following his side’s narrow 29-24 defeat to Dings Crusaders on their return to action.

After 18 months without a match due to the coronavirus pandemic, Westcliff finally kicked off a new National Two South campaign at the Gables.

And, despite the final score-line, Compton felt there was still plenty to be positive about.

"After such a long break and a difficult pre-season, it was both an encouraging and frustrating performance," said Compton.

"It was one of good moments and bad.

"It's something to build on while pushing to the back of the mind, without ever forgetting, that it was a game we had the opportunity to win but let slip away.

"For their part Dings will consider that after a difficult journey they dug deep, lasted the distance and deserved their win.

"Thoughts though of winners and losers are put to one side with the news that later emerged of the death of Henley Hawks player David Hyde who collapsed after their game with Old Albanian.

"Everyone’s thoughts will be with those close to him."

Westcliff started the contest well and forced an early penalty converted by Jack Jones to establish a 3-0 lead in as many minutes.

Shortly thereafter though Billy Morrant was in the bin for 10 minutes, after an inadvertent and unfortunate coming together with an opposition player that was higher than permitted.

Dings took immediate advantage of the extra numbers to score a converted try.

Westcliff would have been happy to play out the rest of the bin period with no change in the 7-3 score line but were delighted instead to retake the lead with an interception try from Jake Campey that Jones converted.

The contest continued with each side having periods in ascendancy, but the next blood was drawn by the visitors 30 minutes in.

Sustained and patient phase play in the Westcliff 22 stretched the defence until their centre was able to exploit a gap from short range. The try was converted, and Dings retook the lead at 14-10.

The remaining minutes of the half were played out with the same intensity and the teams traded a successful penalty each, with the game finely balanced at 17-13 at the break.

The second half started well for the hosts and, after 50 minutes, a break from Luke Cummins was held up but he was able to offload to Greg Bannister on an inside line that saw him touch down alongside the uprights.

Jones converted and the lead changed hands once more 20-17.

Not long after Ewan Binneman was penalised and yellow carded for failing to role away.

Whilst technically correct it was clearly very difficult to have done so.

Shortly before he returned Dings scored a further converted try to forge ahead 24-20.

As the game entered the final dramatic 10 minutes it was no clearer who would emerge the final victors.

It looked to be the hosts when Bannister cutting back against the grain was intelligently fed by Dylan Coetzee and was able to exploit a mismatch to scurry over.

A single point lead with minutes to go, would it be enough?

In the end, no it was not.

A bonus point short range try after a concerted drive into Westcliff territory put the visitors back ahead 29-25.

As Westcliff applied pressure in search of a response Joe Vandermolen became the third Westcliff player to receive a yellow card with insufficient time remaining for him to return.

Even so, and despite being deeply fatigued, Westcliff pressured the visitors for the games dying moments and had opportunities they were ultimately unable to take due to dogged defence and imperfect execution.

Bannister, Hogarth, Campey, Cummins, Ford, Jones, Coetzee, Lane, Morrant, Binneman, Weston, Scogings, Vandermolen, Reynolds, Smith

Replacements: Richmond, Ajeigbe, Johnson, Binstead & Miller