HEAD coach Will Croker has challenged his Bournemouth players to keep alive their promotion dream by remaining undefeated for the rest of the season.

Croker was speaking after Lions had suffered a 30-13 defeat in their top-of-the-table clash with South West Premier leaders Dings Crusaders.

The reverse at Lockleaze left Bournemouth 15 points adrift of Dings, a lead Croker believes the Bristol-based powerhouses are unlikely to relinquish.

And with eight games remaining, Lions appear to be one of five clubs chasing second spot with the runners-up qualifying for a promotion play-off.

Second-placed Bournemouth are currently four points ahead of Newton Abbot and Maidenhead and eight clear of Cleve.

Sixth-placed Exmouth, Bournemouth’s opponents at Chapel Gate on Saturday, are 12 points behind Lions but still have an outside chance of reaching the play-off.

Croker told the Daily Echo: “I think Dings are home and hosed now because they are so far clear.

“I believe we are the next best team in the league and we stumbled against them so I can’t see them being caught.

“We should have beaten them at our place in October. They won by a point with a kick right at the death.

“We genuinely felt we had a shot at beating them and travelled with huge optimism. For the last hour, it was a very even contest.”

Lions paid dearly for a sluggish start and trailed 17-0 before Grant Hancox posted their first points with a penalty to make it 17-3 at the break.

Two further penalties took Hancox past the 200 points in a season mark for the second time, only the second player to achieve the feat for the club after Mike Pope.

A try from Dan Stewart, converted by Hancox, gave Lions a glimmer of hope at 23-13, only for Dings to respond with a touchdown Croker felt should have been disallowed.

“We felt the scoreline flattered them,” said Croker. “We felt their final try was clearly in touch and you could see the footprint on the whitewash where his foot had gone on the line.

“But you have to accept it and hope these things even themselves out over the course of the season.

“We were disappointed because it wasn’t a reflection of how we have played over the past few weeks.

“We seemed to be second to the loose ball and had several opportunities to exit but didn’t do it efficiently enough. You can’t give a team as good as Dings a 14-0 head start in the first 15 minutes.

“After that, we played some really good stuff and worked out how to play against them and worked out the conditions.

“The pitch was an absolute pudding and it took us 20 to 25 minutes to work out how to play on it.

“It wasn’t until the second half when we started to play with some real tempo and were able to cause them some problems.

“The long and short of it was that they were the better team for large parts and they have some incredibly talented players.

“It was a tough day at the office and we were disappointed. But there were positives to take from watching the video and we will roll up our sleeves and get ready to go again in our next game.”

Lions: Sutherland, Stewart, Gleadowe, Chislett, Everett-Bolter, Hancox, Hardcastle, Napier, Manning, Firetto, MacDonald, Hennings, Sharp, Bennett, Rees. Substitutes: Davis, Fraser, Treloar.