Melton RFC player-coach Gareth Collins was disappointed but proud of his troops after their Twickenham dream was dashed at the final hurdle.
The home side were blown away by a confident and slick start by visitors West Leeds who led the RFU Senior Vase semi-final 20-3 after half-an-hour.
Melton grew into the game and ended the tie stronger in front of a 1,000-strong crowd. Two late converted tries reduced the arrears to eight points with five minutes left, but a stunning drop goal from halfway capped a 33-22 win for the Yorkshire side.
Collins, who sparked the mini comeback with a superb try 10 minutes from time, said his side were unable to adapt quickly enough to the step-up in class of opponent as well as the occasion.
He said: “They way we prepared was fantastic, but we were inexperienced at playing in front of this kind of crowd and against opposition like this.
“We didn’t perform to our best, but I can’t fault the effort or commitment of the players. They were absolutely spot on.
“West Leeds were very well drilled and well organised and just got too far away from us in the opening 20 minutes. By the time we started playing, they were just too far ahead.”
Collins, who has played National League Two rugby with Leicester Lions, was shocked and surprised by the quality of the visitors.
“I knew they would be a good side, but they were much better than I was expecting,” he added.
“They were the best side we have played in this national cup by a long way. Their fly-half dictated the tempo of the game and they fully deserved their win.
“After 60 minutes we were on a par, if not getting our noses in front, but by then the game was already gone.
“We weren’t up to speed in the first half and the sin-bins at the start of the second half left us with too much to do.
“We have worked hard on our fitness all season and it kept us in the game. At the end we were still kicking on, and they were flagging, but it wasn’t enough.
“It’s a difficult one to take. I’m extremely proud of our efforts, but also extremely disappointed.”
* For full report and photo special, turn inside to page 78