IT WAS another nerve-shredding game at Dockham Road as Cinderford clinched a 32-31 bonus-point victory over National One rivals Worthing Raiders.
Down 21-13 at the break, the Foresters had a storming second half to overhaul the deficit, with five tries for man-of-the-match Clive Stuart-Smith (2), Sam Baker, Koree Britton and Mike Wilcox.
And this win was vital. Cinderford may have three games in hand on the visitors but the Raiders are sitting just one spot above them in the league.
Gloucester hooker Koree Britton started while former Gloucester captain and back row forward Adam Balding made a long-awaited return from injury.
But Cinderford suffered the worst of starts.
A bullish run through a glaring gap in defence from hooker Matt Miles set up a try under the posts six minutes in for fullback Kieran Leeming, easily converted by scrum-half Joe Govett.
A chance went begging for Cinderford minutes later as Baker was grounded with the try-line at his mercy but after Worthing infringed at the breakdown fly-half Mark Davies kicked three points from the tee.
Worthing’s Alex Nielsen had his head in his hands after dropping the ball on the try-line but play was brought back for a forward pass and Cinderford had a lucky escape.
But the visitors made their next chance count, albeit a fortuitous score. Britton’s pass to winger Nev Codlin was intercepted and centre Ollie Richards ran the length of the field to dive under the posts for a converted try.
Raiders were penalised for a knock-on in attack and Davies’ well-placed kick to the corner set up a catch and drive which inched toward the try-line.
After a series of pick-and-go efforts, in-form scrum-half Clive Stuart-Smith scrambled over to close the gap, but the angled conversion drifted wide for Davies.
The line-out became a very real problem for Cinderford as the clock ticked down towards the break. Twice hooker Britton threw the ball too far and on the third time of asking his effort was stolen and Worthing capitalised, with prop Dan Sargent muscling over under the posts for another converted score.
A 21-8 deficit would leave a mountain to climb in the second half and Cinderford reacted to the danger.
Impressive work at the scrum by Stuart-Smith fed Balding who crashed into the 22, before the ball was fed wide for Codlin to unleash wing Baker for a try in the corner.
Davies’ conversion was wide and the Foresters went into the break 21-13 down.
Worthing kicked a penalty over in the 48th minute to extend their advantage but minutes later centre Kiba Richards required medical attention.
Fit to play on, Worthing were penalised at the scrum and Davies kicked to the corner. The driving maul crashed over; Britton grounding the ball before Davies’ conversion hit the crossbar.
Nothing but a win would do and Cinderford pressed on in a highly physical period of abrasive midfield play.
The back line demonstrated their attacking potency and speed as Davies’ high looping pass found centre Jack Adams who fired a pass on the blindside to Baker but the ball was dropped in Worthing’s 22.
But Cinderford secured possession and after efforts to drive over the line were halted, Davies found Adams. His high kick was expertly gathered over the line by Mike Wilcox to score.
Davies’ superb kick from the touchline split the posts and Cinderford were 25-24 ahead.
Worthing’s number eight Liam Perkins strayed offside and Davies kicked for the corner. The referee adjudged one driving effort to be held up but Stuart-Smith made sure to ground the ball next time.
Davies converted Cinderford’s fifth try but the hosts seemed to want to make life difficult for themselves.
The fly-half skewed a clearance kick and a scything run from replacement Charlie McGowan was left unchecked. His offload to Jordan Burns allowed the replacement scrum-half to stroll under the posts for an easy score in the 77th minute.
With the home crowd on tenterhooks Cinderford saw out the remaining minutes to secure another roller-coaster bonus-point victory, but would regret gifting their rivals two bonus points.
CINDERFORD: M Wilcox, S Baker, J Adams, R Winchle, N Codlin, M Davies, C Stuart-Smith, C Bundy, (W Davis, 69), K Britton (T Bozzard, 69), E Booley, E King, T Hicks, A Balding, M Brown, G Evans
REPLACEMENTS: L Randall, D Pointon, S Hawley
WORTHING RAIDERS: K Leeming, B Loosmore, O Richards, K Richards (J Burns, 58), A Nielsen, B Dudley, J Govett, D Sargent, M Miles (P Cleveland, 78), J Burns (M Pointing, 58), S Gaynor, S Barlow (C McGowan, 40), R Smith (S Hewick, 45), J Chisholm, L Perkins
REFEREE: Marcus Caton
STAR MAN: Clive Stuart-Smith