NIGEL DUDDING insists his Henley Hawks side fear no one as they go into the second half of the season.
The head coach is adamant they will improve following a tricky start to the campaign in which more than 10 senior players have been sidelined by injury.
The Hawks lie in 10th position in National Division 1 having won just one away game all season. Their 13-8 defeat at home to Esher on Saturday was their third straight defeat.
But Dudding says his side has the quality to beat anyone of their day.
He said: “One of the big messages we want to send out is that we don’t fear anybody and those that are at the top or near to them are not untouchable. Anybody can beat anyone.
“Doncaster are rising high at the top but they have lost three games, one of them to us, and we have performed pretty well against the top three sides. You have to be on your mettle otherwise you slip up.”
Although the Hawks got off to a positive start to the season, winning two, drawing one and losing two in their opening five matches, injuries took their toll.
Dudding said: “Things for us went pretty much to plan at the beginning of the season but then we had unlucky injuries to people which left us short of key players at key times which has slowed us down in our ambition to finish in the top five.”
Former captain Matt Payne picked up a pelvic injury against London Welsh in a pre-season friendly and hasn’t started a game all season but is due to return next month while summer signing Luke Allen, who picked up a neck injury in pre-season, only made his first full start on Saturday.
Other casualties include Hugo Milford-Scott who is out for the season after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in training and Jaryd Robinson who broke an ankle against Loughborough two weeks ago.
Dudding was forced to bring in some fresh faces and promote from their youth ranks as cover.
He said: “Although they have performed really well some lack the experience at this level. Hopefully by the new year we will get some players back.”
Dudding also bemoans his side’s lack of tries in the opening half of the season for his side’s indifferent form. He said: “We worked out that if we had converted one more try in three games we would be about sixth in the league.
“In training we have put in more drills and schedules where we have focused on getting through the opposition and keeping the ball longer to break down sides.
“In this league defences are much tighter and far more aggressive with bigger players so we have looked at ways to use the ball in phases.
“For the first few weeks we played pretty well which showed that we had prepared properly but when we go away we have to prepare and play a little bit more of a conservative game and take the points when they are on offer. We haven’t done that often enough.”
The Hawks are the best placed side of the three promoted from National Division 2 north and south with Worthing 12th and Hull Ionians at the foot of the league in 16th.
Their only away win came against Worthing and Dudding says the extra travelling has taken its toll on his players.
Dudding said: “The only away game we have won this season was at Worthing where we know the environment and what we would be up against like last year. The away games are where we need to pick up points.
“The goal is double the points tally we have but we do have a tough few weeks coming up in which we are playing some of the top sides but if we can get through that we will do well.”
He added: “Now we are thinking of a mid-table finish, certainly a couple of places higher than we are at the moment.”
The Hawks return to league action on January 4 when they travel to second-placed Rosslyn Park.