Though five minutes of mayhem cost the Crookwell Dogs a victory on Saturday, coach Bruce Nixon said he "could not be happier" with what he saw from his side.
The Dogs are undergoing a transitional year in 2021, as the club looks to rebuild its player base following a long layoff due to COVID-19.
In the first round of the ACT South Coast Monaro competition, Crookwell faced the Jindabyne Bushpigs and fell to a five-point defeat at Crookwell Memorial Oval.
Due to a number of new faces to the side, Nixon was not concerned about the result and instead focused on ensuring the players got sufficient game time.
"I went into the game not worrying about a result," he said.
"We've got 28 players, a lot of new players, the main thing was to get our 23 players on the field. We achieved that, and in doing so it caused a bit of a breakdown in communication.
"But I could not be happier. After 12 months off, Crookwell rugby is back at Memorial Oval, and we'll only get better."
The Dogs faced a daunting challenge in the Bushpigs, who were grand finalists in 2020 and possessed a much physically larger side which dominated the scrums.
However, Crookwell's gritty style of play and speed on the wing allowed the Dogs to hold their ground, and even build a 24-12 lead midway through the second half.
But, after Crookwell lead for nearly three quarters of the game, its complexion changed entirely with 20 minutes to go.
The Bushpigs scored two quick tries on the back of a yellow card to Crookwell, which Nixon said caused a few minutes of confusion on the field.
"We got that yellow card, and that threw us off the rails a bit," he said.
"We had all of our young players on, and then it went to trouble. A lack of communication was a big thing."
Despite a valiant effort in the dying minutes of the match from Crookwell, the Bushpigs defended resolutely and maintained their 29-24 lead until the final horn.
As the visitors celebrated their hard-won victory, Nixon emphasised how proud he was of the performance put in by his inexperienced team.
"Seeing some of the younger and newer guys get their first opportunity [was a highlight]," he said.
"We had to pick our best three players for the match, and two of those were guys that were new."
Nixon entered the 2021 season with an eye towards the future. Over the last 18 months, Crookwell lost many of its older and most experienced players for various reasons.
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This year, the veteran coach has decided to focus on building the strongest foundations possible on which the club can build another successful dynasty.
"We're a young squad, and normally you have ten out of your 15 are older and a bit more experienced," Nixon said. "We're not in that space, we've got three or four really good older players.
"We've had a very successful run over the last five or six years, and this year's more about building the future of Crookwell rugby."
The Dogs were cheered on through the match by a large and vociferous crowd of supporters. Nixon made a point of thanking all of the locals who came to the Memorial Oval and got behind the team.
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