CRESTFALLEN Clee Hill skipper Charlie Evans admits being so near but yet so far from Midlands Junior Vase glory was a bitter pill to swallow that left some of his players in tears.

Hill agonisingly lost to a late penalty, three minutes from time, as they went down 13-12 in the regional Vase final at Birstall in Leicestershire on Saturday.

Not only did defeat deny Clee the honour of being crowned Midlands champions, it also ends any hopes of making the national final, traditionally held at Twickenham, the home of English rugby.

“We were gutted, the lads were in bits,” admitted Evans. “There were tears shed – that was how much it meant to the boys, and we came so close.

“To know that we could won it, it just hurts that little bit more than if they had beaten us heavily – a few of our lads said they would rather have lost by 40 points than one.”

A timid first half from the visitors ultimately proved costly as a converted try and a penalty put Birstall 10-0 ahead at the break.

Evans added: “We had a really good run down there and a good warm-up but we just didn’t come out of the blocks – we gave them a lot of respect in the first half, maybe too much.

“They seemed to be in our half all the time and we were under the cosh, with our defence having to do all the work.”

However, Clee Hill emerged from the half-time teamtalk a new side as, aided by a couple of sin-bin periods for Birstall, they turned the game on its head to lead 12-10.

A penalty try was followed up by a score from Matt Bowen but, crucially, the touchline conversion drifted just wide and Clee gave away a late penalty under the sticks to hand Birstall victory.

“The second half was completely the opposite to the first,” added Evans. “We were in their half constantly – they only got out a couple of times but on one of those occasions they scored.”

To make things worse, the postponement of grassroots sport due to the coronavirus outbreak has denied Clee the chance to clinch promotion from Midlands Four West North this weekend.

A win at Birmingham Exiles would have sent the leaders up but now they must wait to see when, and indeed if, the season resumes.

“We don’t really know what’s going to happen,” Evans admitted. “We would be gutted if that was it for the season, which it could easily be.

“It would be gutting not to have any recognition for the season we’ve had and to have restart in the same league next season but if that’s what it is, that’s what it is. It’s out of our hands.”