GRAHAM DAWE admitted he was proud of his Plymouth Albion squad after they finished the season with 22 wins out of 30.
Albion beat champions Richmond 40-39 away in their final match of the 2015/16 campaign.
Only Richmond, with 23 wins, claimed more victories in the season than Albion.
The Plymouth players had been upset that Dawe, who had rebuilt the squad from scratch in the summer, had surprisingly been asked to leave the club two games before the end of the season by the Albion’s new owners, Dave Venables and Bruce Priday.
However, the team pulled together and showed their spirit to beat the top two sides, Hartpury and Richmond, in their last two games.
“I am very proud of the squad,” said Dawe, who attended the final two matches and was still passing on instructions and helping to pick the team.
“In September and October they did question a few things because they are young men and they had learned different things in their careers, but they suddenly bought into what to do and what they could achieve. They set about it very well.
“Yeah, we had a few losses on the way, but their spirit shone through, especially defensively.
“The balance of the team is superb.
“We have five outstanding front-rowers, three very good line-out forwards, loads of scavengers, then we have Herbie Stupple with his off-loads and Cam Setter and Matt Shepherd, who are both very good scrum-halves. Cam’s a very articulate scrum-half and Matt Shepherd is a real terrier.
“Then we have Marc Koteczky, Tom Bedford and Jake Murphy, who are great passers of a ball and who understand the game, and then the back-three. We finished the season with three youngsters in the back three (Tom Putt, Robin Wedlake, Harrison Cully), but we can’t forget Ethan Ford and Seti Raumakita.
“There is a lovely balance to this team and they deserve to grow old together.”
Dawe and his assistant Simon Lane, who has also left Albion, watched Saturday’s game at Richmond from behind the posts.
“Simon Lane has been so important to this team,” said Dawe.
Both were really impressed with Albion’s performance in London.
“It was the last game of the season and you are never quite sure what you are going to get,” said Dawe.
“Richmond started exceptionally well. They made two or three really good breaks, but then we came back and scored two fabulous tries.
“All our tries were top drawer, with the off-loads, support play, speed, dexterity and subtleness.
“What was also pleasing on Saturday is that with 20 minutes to go they went to power rugby and went through the middle of rucks and got in behind with support play.
“The biggest aspect was Matt Shepherd’s goalkicking. I would imagine he has kicked 98 per cent last three games.
“And obviously our defence near the end beggared belief because Richmond gave it everything. They are a very proud club and they wanted to celebrate their season with a win.”
After the match Dawe was lifted aloft by his players and the following day at the club’s end of season presentation lunch they presented him with a frame shirt and also the number two shirt that they ‘retired’ in his honour for the last two games.