Leigh 19 – 0 Medway Crusaders (IV)

Leigh hold out to Medway’s strong pack in the first half.

The build up to this round 2 Late Red Division 3 league encounter against Medway Crusaders was almost as big as the game itself. The anticipation of fine weather at the FOD, a perfectly presented pitch, another decent crowd and knowledge that both teams had healthy squads got the locals excited at the Fleur De Lis on Friday evening. 

Kick off was just before the hour as Medway launched the ball high from the railway line end into the Leigh midfield.  It was not long before the home side started to deploy their attacking game plan. Showing signs of composure and control with the ball in attack, the Leigh pack were marshalled down field deep into the Medway half by scrum half Chris Austin. The Crusaders conceded a penalty in front of the posts on their twenty two for a breakdown infringement, and Leigh opted to tap continuing their steady advance. Noticing a gap from the base of the ruck skipper Alistair Coulthurst burst through a fractured defensive line and increased his stride over the try line to secure a first try after 5 minutes. Austin slotted the conversion with confidence and plumb between the posts to make it 7-0 to the Layabouts. It was a text book start.

But as is often the case after an early score the opposing team kicked up a gear. The first of many opening half scrums showed the visitor’s advantage, ballast upfront with a young engine room and the Layabouts were shoved backwards by some yards on the first contest. This encouraged Medway to put the pressure on, and they held Leigh on their host’s 5 yard line for some 10 minutes before the pressure was released by a quick turnover at a ruck. The ball launched back down the pitch and the first signs that Leigh’s solid defence had most definitely turned up.

The penalty count for Leigh was rising, and they were lucky to avoid a yellow card if number of infringements was the measure for the referee. And so was the scrum count rising and the final quarter of the first half was killed of any serious activity by the referee’s whistle, scrum after scrum after scrum. The notable difference now was how the Medway pack had been tamed, either run out of push or Leigh had started to outsmart upfront. Coulthurst at loose head was having a strong game and steadied the front row. Dan Pollen at tight head was holding strong whilst hooker Chris Taylor made sure the ball was returned to the second row.  Unfortunately Pollen took several knocks to his shoulder and made a wise decision to retire. This inadvertently played to Leigh’s advantage, declaring before the game there were no suitably qualified replacement front row (noting that able props Carl Eden, Toby Laubach, Marcus van Needlework and Dan ‘Baywatch’ Swan all unavailable), the scrums were forced to go uncontested. And so we saw the welcome return of former Layabout club captain Ryan Bull in at No.8 as Sam Howard took up the front row for the last 10 minutes of the half, the score staying at 7-0.

Leigh restarted with a few changes at half time, Rory Martin in on the wing for Mike ‘Tats’ Fogg. Jon Davies in at wing forward for Matt Johnson. The back line was starting to fire up now. Austin’s passes had better accuracy this week which allowed fly half Jake Hudson to take the ball moving forward. Centres Wayne Bell and Will Bailey who had spent most of the first half pounding the opposition midfield with tackles, started to stretch their legs and release the wings of Rory Martin and John Sewell and full back Neil Bell. Hudson clearly in control of the game now, drifted across his own back line, a few pop passes and Neil Bell sliced the defence open to drop over for a second try.  Austin ably converted to the crowd’s enjoyment. The score now 14-0.

Medway restarted but immediately fly half Hudson returned the ball long and back into the opposition half with his left boot, as he continued to do for the rest of the game. Playing for territory and then building the attack from the forwards was the game plan and this was executed to perfection with added finesse from the back line again as Hudson fooled at least 3 opponents with his customary show and go, to run in by the posts. A confident Austin readied himself for the extra points from the conversion, and subsequently failed with style.  The score 19-0.

Medway were not giving up and applied huge pressure on Leigh for the remainder of the game despite it turning a bit scrappy at this point.  The visitor’s frustration was starting to show as Leigh’s determination to keep a clean sheet was causing the occasional but unintentional high tackle, the opponents felt this should have been addressed with a card by the referee.  Leigh’s defence was not breaking though, it was well drilled and disciplined, loud shouts from Austin and then later scrum half replacement Brad Clarkson behind the tackle line kept the troops organised and focused. One particular phase of 5 minutes saw Leigh hold their line without movement as wave after wave of Medway forwards attempted to break it.  Ben ‘Clothesline’ Clifton, Sam ‘Kiwi’ Marsden and Sam Thomas all took to the pitch for the final 10 minutes to ensure everyone had a run out and enjoyed the atmosphere of this win. The final whistle blew and the Layabouts had achieved a great result at 19-0.

Man of the match went to Ali Coulthurst, a unanimous decision from the Layabout crowd, as he led by example with a fine opening try to show the way and delivered some big tackles. But he was present as a leader today; loud, edgy and confrontational in his play, it was a skipper’s performance.  Jake Hudson at fly half showed he can boss a game with the boot, delivered superb control and great vision in attack and helped to release the pressure when it counted. Zach Merricks at blind side is that silent warrior that every team has, breathing down the scrum half’s neck in the first half, disrupting line out ball and putting in quality hits in the second. Chris Taylor looked very comfortable at hooker and line out throws becoming more natural. Dan Pollen had a short but again impactful game at tight head, here’s hoping that shoulder is nothing more than a stinger. Kurt Lusher and Conor Siddle in the second row again combined to give much push in the engine room, both contributing well in the loose, Siddle showing promise of another No. 8 in the team. Sam Howard delivered a quiet but good shift in the pack.  Matt Johnson had to retire at half time due to a dead leg but during his half a game he delivered a full game’s worth of tackles and impact such is his high work rate.  Jon Davies is showing huge potential as another back row option, liking the loose play and being very disruptive in defence.  John Sewell in the three quarters had velcro hands today, safe catches all game and happy to return play back into the opponents half. Mike ‘Tats’ Fogg teased the crowd with his pace again, confidence is building and it won’t be long before we see the ‘Tats’ of old return.  Rory Martin is probably the most unassuming guy off the pitch you could meet, but let’s say you don’t want to be in his sights for a tackle, absolute crunching hits all through the second half.

The game was rounded off with all players returning to the Fleur afterwards for post match tea and beers. Big thanks to the Medway lads who were superb guests from the moment they arrived at the FOD and clearly appreciate the importance of post-match activities. We know the return fixture will be a tough one but we look forward to it none the less.

Next week the Layabouts head off to Weavering near Maidstone for round 3. Kick off 3pm.