Leigh 26 – 7 Canterbury 4s

Two tries from man of the match Bailey helps to secure victory in league opener.

Tries: Bailey (2), Lusher, Bell

Conversions: Fogg (2), Austin

The summer saw a few changes to the 1st XV squad as players left for university or pastures new but equally new faces started to appear for the lads set up as the pre-season commenced, and also not ignoring the increasing interest and numbers for the new ladies squad, the Ladybirds.

You could almost call him an old boy but Will Bailey was equally a new face in the back line following a decision in the summer to move him out from back row to centre, and it paid dividends against Canterbury.

Kick off was delayed due to the late arrival of the opposition, but when it did get going Leigh put Canterbury under relentless pressure in the first twenty minutes pinning their guests back in their half for most of this initial period. The frustration of not scoring from all their effort started to show as some erratic decision making forced errors from Leigh.  Eventually centre Will Bailey was able to dash through from a short distance, the subsequent conversion attempt failed leaving Leigh at 5-0 ahead after a quarter of the game. Soon after the restart second row regular Kurt Lusher spilt the Canterbury defence from a tap penalty move on Canterbury’s twenty two, apparently in a move similar to Moses parting the seas according to Club President Mark ‘Lardy’ Doherty, and he was in a for an easy score under the posts. The conversion slotted by current Players’ Player and Top Points Scorer holder Mike ‘Tats’ Fogg who was also playing his first league game following a nasty ankle injury last season.

Canterbury fought back and had Leigh under pressure for the remainder of the half. Silly errors and some unnecessary kicking away of possession followed but the now expected and resilient Leigh defence held out until the half time whistle. Scores at the turn 12-0.

With the sun behind them, Leigh had the chance to pin Canterbury back in their half again but instead Canterbury pushed Leigh back deep and held the hosts for at least 15 minutes in their own territory. They were unlucky not to convert this effort to points. Bodies were tiring and subs were rolling on and off.  And then a midfield fumble by one of the Canterbury backs, and centre Wayne Bell was quick to pounce on the spillage, scoop up the ball and dash in from the Canterbury ten metre line securing a try with a professional looking dive into the end zone. Mike Fogg made it 19-0 with the conversion.

And this try was what Leigh needed.  Suddenly unity was re-discovered along with better decision making.  Canterbury were not giving up though, a well worked pushover try from loose play was the reward for their constant second half pressure, the conversion made it 19-7.

Leigh knew they were far from safe but the dynamic had changed and the build up play from the home team much more organised and effective now. The forwards deploying effective pick and go plays from the base of the ruck created space for the backs to launch a series of moves. Eventually Bailey broke through the defence and scored his second, with Chris Austin’s conversion making it 26-7.  The final few minutes were then played out before the referee’s whistle was blown for full time.

Throughout the game the Leigh scrum showed dominance, front row of Dan Pollen, Chris Taylor and Toby Laubach made a huge impression. Second rows Kurt Lusher and new boy Conor Siddle had a barn stormer of a game each; a solid engine room in the pack and battering rams in the loose.  Back row Sam Howard and later Ali Coulthurst were both a tad quieter than normal, sensing a few knocks keeping them reserved on the pitch. Flanker Matt Johnson put in tackle after tackle in the open game, destroying attack lines. Fellow wing-forward Marcus van Needlework as ever hungry for the ball and to run at the defence, and at a work rate more appropriate for someone half his age.  Another newbie Ben (so new we don’t even know his name yet ….) who quickly earned himself a Layabout nickname of ‘clothes line’ after one particular tackle, showed promise in the pack.

Chris Austin at scrum half also started quiet but eventually bossed the game around with good control at the breakdown.  Replacement Shaun Hipgrave equally loud and bossy in the last 15. Jake Hudson at fly half was accurate with kicks from hand particularly penalties which allowed Leigh to use their new look line out to good effect. The line outs still a bit loose in places but improving game by game. Will Bailey and Wayne Bell in the centres with Neil Bell at full back were linking up well, a nice mix of braun, brains and magic. You can guess who is who.

To have Mike ‘Tats’ Fogg back on the wing excited the crowd. At his best, some mesmerising dashes through the defence, just needs keep that running line straight ahead of him. Another relative newbie Sam ‘Kiwi’ Marsden, training and improving all summer, making a fine near full game appearance on the wing, and eventually replaced by final newbie Jon Davies who was not afraid to run at the opposition and can also offer a blind side forward option.  An all round solid performance, no one lacking in commitment or desire.  The FOD crowd full of voice and pleased to have Layabout rugby in their lives again.

Next week Medway 4s will be visiting the FOD for round 2 of the Kent Rural Late Red Division 3 league. Kick off 3pm.