Pontypool RFC head coach Leighton Jones believes his squad can take pride, but also learn lessons from their WRU National Cup semi-final defeat to Merthyr RFC, writes Andrew Deering.
The club succumbed to a late Matthew Jarvis penalty, losing 20-18 at Eugene Cross Park, as they narrowly missed out on their first final appearance in 28 years. After a poor start that saw Dale McIntosh's men race into a 14-0 lead, the Pontypool Park side scored 18 unanswered points to leave themselves within touching distance of an historic triumph, only for Jarvis to slot two late penalties for the Principality Premiership leaders as they booked a second consecutive appearance in the Cardiff showpiece.
"We probably couldn't have had a worse start," said Jones. "There was then a lot of pressure on the boys to fight back. They did really well to do just that and that's testament to their character and the belief they have in themselves as a group. The team kept playing and kept asking questions of Merthyr.
"In the last ten minutes we should have got hold of the ball and pinned them in their own half. Also, on days like that, if you give away penalties in your own half, a kicker of the quality of Matthew Jarvis will punish you."
"The defeat was tough to take, but I think the boys can take a lot from it and we can learn a lot from it as we look ahead to the remaining league games and play-off encounter."
Despite a number of teams in the WRU National Championship either already having completed their league season or only have a couple of fixtures left, Pontypool must now negotiate a further five games before drawing their regular season campaign to a close.
Three of the four clubs Pooler will face between now and the end of the season sit in the bottom half of the table and are submerged in a battle to avoid relegation. It is a situation that suits Jones, with the club looking to stay match sharp ahead of the play-off in May.
"In the last couple of years, it was nice to play end of season rugby that didn't carry a huge amount of pressure. However, this season we want to be playing teams that will fight for the 80 minutes and give us a tough test.
The first first of those tests comes this weekend, with Pooler welcoming Bedlinog RFC to Pontypool Park. The visitors currently sit five points above the relegation zone with just home and away fixtures against Jones' men left to play.
"We've set ourselves a standard with performances over the last few weeks and I think backing it up is key," said Jones. "We have picked up a couple of injuries, so boys will have a chance to come in and stake a claim at the weekend."
"We have won the league and with the run we have ahead of us, coupled with the games we have played over the last few weeks, I feel we have the perfect schedule heading towards our promotion play-off game."