Leigh 27 – 22 Aylesford

A determined Layabout side see’s off the challenge of visitors, Aylesford, in this penultimate game of the season.

With Leigh having secured the top spot in the league, spirits were high, the conditions were perfect and the crowd present in their droves & numbers.

Aylesford kicked off the match with Leigh receiving the ball deep in their 22, the ball was caught well by Zach Merricks and with the support of the pack was driven back up the field. The message from the warm-up was to start the game with intensity and direction, to take the game to Aylesford and intend to put them to bed early. It didn’t take long for Leigh’s game plan to yield points on the board, with a well-executed attacking move through the back line seeing winger James Thorpe ground the ball in the corner for his 11th try of the season. The conversion on target but narrowly short by Chris Austin (5-0).

An excellent start for the home team, but could they keep it up? The early score seemed to ignite the spirits of the players with particularly hooker Marcus van Nieuwenhuizen, like a man possessed (or just running off 24 eggs) charging his way through the Aylesford back-line whilst fending off at least three players as he went. It was then the backs turn to get in on the action again, with the Bell Brothers in the centres today combining well and allowing Neil Bell to break the line, offload to scrumhalf Chris Austin who in turn offloaded to the supporting line of Angus Bray for a score under the posts. The conversion being added by Chris Austin (12-0).

At this juncture, Leigh appeared to be firing all cylinders with the forwards securing good ball to feed the Leigh back line, however a momentary stall in the engine, as the Aylesford back line intercepted a pass and scored just wide of the posts. The conversion neatly being added by the visitors (12-7).

Leigh continued to batter on the door of their opponents with ever increasing ventures into the opponents 22, only to be stolen and cleared away at the last effort. Until fly-half Jake Hudson was at it again with his dancing feet & ‘show & go’s’ as he managed to wriggle his way through a handful of tackles, refusing to go down and finally grounding the ball wide of the posts. An excellent individual effort bringing his try tally to 7 for the season! The conversion not being added by Chris Austin (17-7).

The following 10 minutes that ensued however was to be all Aylesford, as excessive scrum time ultimately stemmed Leigh’s momentum and allowed for the Bulls to work themselves back into the game. Leigh spent much of this time defending in their own half and particularly within their 22 and 5 metre line. The team are to be commended for their efforts as on at least two occasions the ball was held up on Leigh’s try line.

However, under such pressure, errors are bound to creep in and after a string of repeated infringements & for deliberately knocking the ball on, Marcus van Nieuwenhuizen was shown a yellow card five minutes before the half.

Despite being a man down, with the support of the home crowd, Leigh stuck to their guns and repeatedly held off the wave upon wave of Bulls attacks and finally Aylesford were awarded a penalty and opted for a shot at the posts. The penalty was smartly added (17-10).

HALF TIME

During the half-time huddle a string of changes were made to give Leigh’s strong bench a run out against the opposition, words of wisdom were spoken from the coaching staff & a call for calm amongst the team as they look to build on their first half performance.

However, the half did not commence as the Layabouts intended it too. From the kick-off, Aylesford attacked with real purpose and were able to quickly push back their opponents deep in their 22 before eventually scoring through the forwards. The conversion on this occasion not being added (17-15).

Shortly after Leigh were back up to full strength with Marcus van Nieuwenhuizen returning to the field and as if by magic the steam train began to spark into life again. Good breaks were made from scrum-half Chris Austin and flanker Angus Bray whom was a machine on the day and seemed to be everywhere on the pitch. Excellent work was also being put in by the forward pack, particularly Carl Edan aka ‘The Fridge’ & Dan ‘Baywatch’ Swann as repeatedly they stole the ball at the breakdown and thus winning possession back for their team.

It did not take long for Leigh to add another score to the board with an attacking effort held up just short of the line. A few forward crashes from standstill unable to tip their opponents, until skipper Alistair Coulthurst, ran his trademark ‘training ground’ diagonal line to crash over the try line for the score. The conversion duties were handed to John Sewell on this occasion who narrowly missed (22-15).

With 7 points in it and just under 30 minutes to go, this certainly was shaping up to be an excellent encounter between both sides. The next period of the game evolved into an end to end passage of play with both teams attacking well, only for the ball to be knocked on, stolen or driven into touch, thus allowing the other team to effectively clear their lines. The Bulls were stepping up the pressure and again found themselves over the Leigh try line only for the ball to be held up again.

With the game approaching the final 10 minutes, the Bell Brothers were at it again, with Wayne Bell playing at inside centre who was a menace against his opposing number all day, opted to turn on the playmaker in him with a clever little dink through seeing his brother and outside centre partner Neil Bell, diving on the ball for the score in the corner. With John off the pitch, the kicking duties were passed back to Chris Austin who narrowly missed the kick from the corner (27-15).

Credit though to Aylesford, the Bulls refused to lie down. Given a two-score game and with the support of their well-travelled crowd firmly behind them they gave Leigh just as good as they got. Leigh foolishly giving away a penalty for ‘backchat to the referee’ at the wrong time gifted Aylesford with a penalty inside Leigh’s half. The Bulls tapped & went, the Leigh defensive line scrambling to defend, but alas on this occasion were overthrown as the Bulls grounded the ball just wide of the posts. The conversion being added (27-22).

With the referee signalling under five minutes left to play it certainly was to be a bit of squeaky bum time. Both Leigh’s faithful on the touch line and stern words from individuals in the team re-focussed the Layabouts to give their all to ensure the victory was earned. Aylesford mounted one last herculean effort as they came at Leigh with everything they had left in the tank. Leigh pressured their opponents by coming up quickly in defence, making a nuisance of themselves at the breakdown, ultimately forcing Aylesford to take quick ball leading to an attacker being isolated. Once isolated Leigh spotted their opportunity to pounce, ripped the ball and when attempting to secure a platform from which to clear their lines, a Bulls player went in off his feet and thus awarding Leigh with the penalty. Both the team and crowd erupted with roars of victory as Jake Hudson put the ball in to touch, followed swiftly by the full-time whistle by the referee.

Like the first encounter against Aylesford, credit must be given to the Bulls as they made Leigh work for it tirelessly on the day and I’m sure there would have been some bruised and aching bodies come Sunday morning. Well done Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure playing against you this season.

Man of the Match goes to Angus Bray whom had an excellent game at flanker, was always the first person to hit each breakdown, and ran some excellent supporting lines all day, and even managed to bag another try against his name.

Onto next week with our last training session at Tonbridge School at 7pm on Wednesday, please do all make the effort to get down. Followed by Leigh’s last league game against Gillingham at home, a team whom last time they met earlier in the season, beat Leigh 17-10. A score the Layabouts will be itching to set straight!