A slight sense of disappointment lingers around Sheffield Tiger’s RUFC for head coach Thiu Barnard after his side finished just outside the promotion play-offs.
However the South African coach, in his debut season at the helm, is not resting on his laurels and already has his sights firmly set on challenging for the National Three title next year.
And the Dore Moor club can take great confidence into their next league challenge after ending their recent campaign unbeaten in 2015 with a comfortable 40-24 away win over tricky Burnage last weekend.
“It’s a relief to finish as I’m absolutely exhausted!” exclaimed the former Durban and Eastern Province player.
“We didn’t play our best against Burnage but to get 40 points on the board shows how far we have come and I couldn’t be more proud of the boys’ performances since Christmas.
“Since January we have been one of the best sides in the league and that’s why it hurts to not snatch a late promotion place – especially after our amazing performances against Sale.
“However we can take so many positives for next year and will hit the ground running in pre-season taking our momentum into the opening games which is the vital stage when challenging for the title.”
A Peter Swatkins double and tries from Liam Wallace, Henri Packard and Mark Ireland helped the Tigers to a 21st league victory leaving them third on 107 points – three behind second-placed Sandal, whilst Sale, who the gold and maroons beat home and away, took the title with 113 points.
Tigers won their last 12 games taking 58 points from a possible 60 and finished with the best defensive record after conceding 398 points whilst scoring the fourth highest points tally in the league with 826.
Next season Tigers will be without star forward Josh Redfern who this week agreed to join Rotherham Titans, but will be boosted by the scoring prowess of current Rotherham back-liner Jamie Broadley. He will fill in for Packard, Tiger’s highest try scorer this season with 30, who will be abroad until Christmas.
Sheffield’s second highest try scorer and vice-captain Peter Swatkins, who dived over for 21 this campaign, is confident his side will hit the ground running and is relishing the prospect of a potential city derby between themselves and Sheffield RUFC who must win their play-off against Kirkby Lonsdale tomorrow to make this a reality.
“Losing games in the first half of the season cost us a promotion place in the end, but we had a new coach and lots of new players so we had to start from the beginning,” said the talented back who recently made his 100th Tigers appearance.
“But we are already rearing to go for next season and we managed to maintain the majority of the squad which puts us in a very strong position.
“I’m also excited by the prospect of playing Sheffield and hope they get the promotion at the weekend. It will bring something special to the city and I believe it could really help the sport develop here.
Thiu, the Port Elizabeth-born coach added: “I’ve loved my first season in charge. There is a great atmosphere here and it’s really going places.
“My aim is to get that promotion and I want us placing mid-table in National Two the following year. We have the vision and quality at this club to really push on now and I’m confident we will achieve this.”