A hard fought win on the road against a solid Weavering Warriors makes it three from three in the league for Leigh.
Leigh hit the road for the first time in this league season and travelled across to Weavering near Maidstone for round 3 of the Late Red Division 3 competition. The two clubs are almost identical in history and design, but previous meetings have typically been a thumping for one of the sides, Leigh taking the honours 4 of the 6 previous fixtures. Leigh were without several regulars this week due to injury or availability and saw many of the Layabout old guard put their names down on the squad sheet. Eventually Leigh travelled with 21. Weavering also had similar challenges, 10 regulars not available meant only 2 subs and a team with people out of position.
After a considerably lengthy but needed pre-match briefing from the referee about the new laws, the game got underway in overcast conditions on a firm pitch. Playing in their sky blue and white change kit, Leigh received the kick off from Weavering and immediately put the game plan into action. Control and composure took them back up pitch and to gain territory in the bottom right corner fly half Jake Hudson launched his trusty left boot. The Layabouts were ready to start the pressure for a try. The subsequent Weavering line out was good, and the hosts quickly showed their strategy in return, route one crash ball up the middle of the park. Weavering were big, a few young legs gave added speed but it was predictable and effective play that earned them their first try. It was almost as if Leigh had let them score to understand what they were up against, the tackles were economical but far from as devastating as last week. The conversion was missed and after a couple of minutes it was 5-0 to Weavering.
A good restart followed and Leigh put on the pressure again, the back line of Hudson, Sewell, the Bell brothers, Clarkson and Tutt Sr started to show their magic. Looping work from then centre John Sewell and Jake Hudson, caught Weavering’s defence in two minds and released the ever improving Brad Clarkson on the left wing for a great try, beating his opposite number with ease and the frustration was clear to see. Sewell used the upright to good effect for the conversion and gave Leigh the slender lead of 5-7 after 20 minutes.
The two teams had laid out their stalls, Weavering’s big pack and steady line out had dominated and clearly would dominate the set pieces all game, their backs were able to run the ball but lacked any creativity to break the Leigh defence. Leigh’s smaller pack was struggling but in the loose were rampaging, taking ball forward, supporting, releasing quick and allowing the backs to show off their skills. And a few minutes later the Leigh backs were at it again, Neil Bell gained great ground and broke the gain line, but Clarkson was just ahead on the final pass that would have seen him score with ease. Forward pass and a reset scrum to Weavering.
Just before the half Clarkson took a stinger to the shoulder in a tackle and retired. A few adjustments were needed and Ben Pullen came on to prop, allowing skipper Ali Coulthurst to cover the centre, Sewell moving to the wing. But this did not hamper Leigh’s backs in anyway, Hudson’s slick hands and running followed by great ground from Sewell down the right wing saw a pop inside for Coulthurst to cover the remaining yards to make it 5-12, the conversion attempt by Sewell just passing wide of the post.
Another replacement was needed as Sewell had taken a knock in the build up to the last try. This allowed veteran Pal Butler to take the stage, and was straight into the action, a bit of juggling from a loose ball, he eventually collected and took a straight run in over the line, finishing in style to the delight of the travelling Layabouts on the sideline. Conversion attempt by Wayne Bell was the last kick but went wide and the score at the half was 5-17.
No changes at half time, and Weavering received the ball from Leigh at the restart. Steady build up from the hosts led to a well worked backs try as their left wing got past the Leigh defence and in for an early score. The conversion missed to make the score 10-17. Leigh were caught napping for a while and clearly needed to show some of that infamous and more effective tackling in defence, most of the tackles going in at ball carry height with the intention to rip but it did not stop Weavering from gaining huge ground each run.
The defence had improved. Eventual man of the match Jon Davies at blind side flank put in a huge shift on the tackle front. But the whole team were now stepping up, Sam Howard making a nuisance of himself with tackles and jackles. Eventually a forced fumble allowed Kurt Lusher to pick up on a loose ball and did what has become a trademark charge up the centre of the pitch, splitting defence in two and offloaded to Hudson in support who side stepped the last man to score by the posts. Jubilation that followed from Lusher firing up the Leigh masses, and Hudson slotted the conversion to stretch the lead to 10-24.
The physical game was starting to take its toll as players started to tire or pick up injuries. Chris Taylor at hooker had had a very challenging shift which he had dealt with admirably, but he needed to retire, allowing Duncan Alldis to step into the heat of the front row. Also Ben Clifton had now swapped for Conor Siddle, who had again provided a great work rate all game both on and off the ball. The scrums were clearly a huge asset to Weavering, a tight front five were dominating their Leigh counterparts. It was getting very messy, it was clearly survival mode now. Prop Toby Laubach was unable to continue just before a scrum on the Leigh 5 metre line, but rather than go uncontested Marcus van Needlework moved forward from no 8 to cover as prop, to the acknowledgement and appreciation from the Weavering pack. As they gained territory, Weavering had another scrum close and their no 8 picked from the back and slumped over the line. Despite protests from skipper Coulthurst for illegal binding from their no. 8, the try was awarded as the ref had not seen the infringement. The conversion was good to make it 17-24, and a one try game.
Weavering applied more pressure, Leigh held out but it was frantic and decision making was becoming poor. Hot heads on both sides, a wild kick nearly gifting the hosts a try, a few panic calls. Leigh’s issues continued with Wayne Bell taking a yellow for tackling a man without the ball. Down to 14 the pressure increased but they held out for the 10 minutes without conceding any points.
Back to a full 15 but another close to the line attack from Weavering saw scrum half Shaun Hipgrave, who had been having a superb game as cover for the absent Austin, take a big hit to the face and the subsequent blood shed halted the game. In some ways this did allow some of the pressure to abate but more changes were needed. Veteran Andy ‘Bonzai’ Matthews making a welcome appearance again stepped up into the pack allowing Alldis to cover centre, as Wayne Bell moved to 9.
Things settled down and Leigh started to regain control, moved their way up the pitch. Pressure was being placed on the Weavering defence as Leigh decided to run rather than kick themselves out of their half. Eventually Weavering conceded a penalty, the referee told Hudson it was the last kick of the game, a quick tap and then a short boot into touch, the final whistle went 17-24 the result, Leigh had survived a grilling second half.
Big thanks to all the Layabouts for making an appearance, particularly Chris Attwell and Adrian ‘Zimmy’ Naude who despite not getting any game time, helped provide much needed safety in numbers. The travelling crowd were in good voice, occasionally confrontational but certainly helped provide that much needed encouragement to the team. The Layabouts have a bye next week, and return on the 14th October with a trip to Ashford 2s.