FRANK TAGGART hailed his “group of special players” after Brighton were promoted.

The Blues won a finely-balanced showdown 33-26 against Colchester to book their spot in London and South East Premier for next season.

Brighton had to withstand last-play pressure as the Mill Road hosts, roared on by their biggest crowd of the season, battled to get over the line for a converted try to take the game into extra time.

Colchester were awarded a five metre scrum and rumbled over but Ollie Pickett was held up by some outstanding Brighton defence led by Ross James to spark scenes of joy from the Blues players and travelling supporters.

Blues’ tries came from Taggart, Jordan Whythe and Dylan Winsloe, while it was the superb kicking of Sean O’Hagan that proved pivotal as the visitors turned around a half-time deficit having played into the wind in the first period.

Player-coach Taggart said: “These boys have been simply outstanding all season. Even the games we lost, we lost believing we could still win.

“That’s why we earned six losing bonus points; as important to us gaining promotion as the wins themselves.

“We’ll take some time to reflect on the season and see where we can improve and fine-tune but for now all I can think about is how immensely proud I am of what we have achieved with this group of special players.”

London One South runners-up Brighton, celebrating their 150th anniversary season, were underdogs against a Colchester side who only lost twice all season, both times to the eventual champions.

But Blues got off to a great start when No.8 Taggart went over and O’Hagan converted.

Colchester replied with three penalties from James Crozier before the same player ran in a 40-metre try and added the conversion.

Brighton reduced the arrears swiftly through Whythe but a slick move saw Damien Bramley touch down to give Colchester a 21-14 lead at the break.

Blues punished a spate of four penalties in ten minutes after the restart as O’Hagan converted two but James Mitchell added a further unconverted try for the hosts.

It proved to be their last score as Winsloe touched down by the posts and O’Hagan converted. O’Hagan added a further two penalties, one from the halfway line, to edge Brighton to glory and level five - their highest ever achievement.

Taggart said: “Colchester’s stats were pretty impressive but the atmosphere in our changing rooms pre-match was calm and confident.

“They were a big powerful side who had only been beaten by the league winners all season but we had a game plan and stuck to it.

“The weather conditions played a part and we had opted to play into the strong wind knowing if we could stay in touch at the turn we could start to chip away at any lead they may have.

“A combination of our controlled play and their ill-discipline meant we were able to do just that.”