Who needs fifteen to play rugby ….
Leading into Leigh’s fifth league game of the season, the team travelled to play against a new team in recent years in the form of Sittinbourne II’s. Due to injury, un-availability and half term, the team travelled away with only 14 players, but in true Layabout spirit, ‘we play what is in front of us, with what we have’, the team were raring to kickoff this Kent 3 League encounter.
The conditions on the day were dry, but certainly not calm, as a high wind seemed to take center stage and would almost indefinitely have an impact on the days kicking. (As if Austin needed an excuse!!..)
The game kicked off with Leigh receiving the ball from a well-placed kickoff high and short from the Sittingbourne scrum-half. With limited numbers (which seemed to spur the team on even more), the message today in the pre-match huddle was to play sensible rugby. Attack them on the counter, and most importantly play our game.
Leigh took the early spoils with a couple of red balls up the middle which saw the little Dutch boy (Kurt) strike again with one of his charging runs up the middle, breaking tackles and scoring wide of the posts. The conversion not being added. (0-5).
This was certainly the wakeup call Sititngbourne needed. They started to turn it up through the gears and began to take the game to Leigh. The set piece and particularly the scrums started pretty evenly for both teams with front row of Ben Pullen, Marcus Van Nieuwenhuizen and Layabout legend Chris Atwell holding firm in the boiler room, which provided a good platform to feed both sets of backs. The Leigh back line attacked well and managed to break the line on numerous occasions. However, an interception was made by the Sittingbourne center and an easy score under the posts followed. The conversion being added (7-5).
Leigh responded almost immediately with breaks from scrum half Chris Austin attacking blind from the base of the scrum, seeing his kick through grounded by the Sittingbourne fullback for a 22 drop out. Followed up by a break from Wayne Bell in the centers, stepping his way through numerous defenders before being tackled just short of the touch line. A couple more forward crashes, and the ball found itself in the arms of Kurtis Lusher again whom pounded his way through the defensive line with ease as he brushed off tackle after tackle. It was as if no-one wanted to tackle him – but to be fair, who would! The subsequent score was made under the posts and thus setup skipper Chris Austin with an easy conversion that despite the conditions & shall we say ‘ability’, even the Chairman’s Nan could make. (7-12).
Sittingbourne responded shortly after with their back line utilizing the overlap well, despite the Leigh rushing & scrambling defense to snuff out the advantage, ultimately the Sittingbourne wing found himself in space and ability to ground the ball in the corner. The conversion very nicely being added (14-12).
The last act of the half was not that of points on the board, but rather an injury to Leigh’s ranks reducing them to 13. Sam Howard AKA ‘Lord Howarth’ whom had been having a good game with strong ball carries & aggressive work at the breakdown had got caught his ankle caught up at a breakdown which after an inspection in A&E later has yielded ligament damage. Rest up Sam and we’ll see you next week!
Half Time (14-12).
Having travelled with 14, potential further knocks & injuries were inevitable, not an ideal situation, but considering the circumstances, only a mere adaption to the game plan. The initial game plan set out at the start had an increased focus now as Leigh would return to their roots – focus on defense. Hold the line, ice the breakdown, and counter when it’s on. And that is exactly what Leigh did.
Shortly after the restart, a high hanging ball was put up from Wayne Bell which forced a knock on. Leigh were still contesting in the scrum despite only 6 men being in it, the forwards put in a herculean effort to get the ball out quickly which allowed the ball to be spread to the backs. Following by a pump back in field again to Kurt whom with his forward pack drove him over the line wide of the posts to complete his Hat-Trick. Very well-done Sir! The conversion unable to be added. (14-17).
Sittingbourne responded almost immediately with a score of their own from their forward pack following a lineout in Leigh’s 22 and a catch & drive maul subsequently followed. The conversion narrowly being missed (19-17).
However, with 13 on the park, 2 less in the scrum, Sittingbourne began to take the upper hand in the set piece. On one particular play, the Sittingbourne 8 picked up from the base of the scrum, went wide, popped to the scrum-half, who popped to the winger whom completed an excellent solo effort with a chip through and a score in the corner. The conversion not being added (24-17).
Shortly after, Leigh picked up another injury in the form of Conor picking up a knock to his knee which reduced the numbers to 12 with just over 20 minutes to go. However, never EVER doubt the Leigh spirit & determination. With the scrums now being deemed ‘unsafe’ the decision was made by the referee to go uncontested, which also allowed Leigh to field a full back line in defense. The fire was still certainly roaring, with Matt Johnson having one of his best games in a Leigh shirt, making his way around the pitch like a live wire and in particular putting in a big hit on the Sittingbourne wing denying him his hat-trick.
With 10 minutes to go, a short injury break allowed Leigh the much-needed time to huddle up and work on a specific play by play game plan to not only get back within 7, but to win the game. With a 5-man lineout from Leigh, of which Matt Johnson gathered well (as he did pretty much all game) fed fly-half Jake Hudson who had not his reliable pair of centers Wayne or Jon outside him, but instead, the little Dutch boy with his bike at the ready. Kurt ran an excellent line and managing to break through the line and started charging his way up the pitch into the opponents 22. A great cover tackle from the Sittingbourne fullback gave Kurt a puncture, but with excellent support from Jon Davies busting a gut to get to the breakdown, secure the ball which allowed the second support of Matt Johnson to pick-up and muscle his way the last 10 meters for the try wide of the posts. (24-22). Momentum had well & truly shifted and the conversion presented an opportunity to level the scores. However, Chris Austin was unable to add the 2 points as he saw his kick narrowly miss and the need for an extra score revealed itself. (24-22).
With just over 5 minutes to go, the restart was taken, but it didn’t take long for the ‘Leigh 12’ to exert pressure on their opposition and recover the ball. In the opponents 22, this is when game management presented itself. The forward pack had worked absolutely tirelessly all game, with every single person standing up and being accounted for. Crash after Crash, the forwards were sent up the middle to gain those hard-earned yards, before the ball was finally spread wide to fly-half Jake Hudson who marshalled the ball through the back line and found flanker Matt Johnson of all people in space on the wing to complete the score in the corner.
The team both on and off the pitch erupted into celebration.
A quick check with the referee of the time left (being none) and of the score (regardless of if the kick was needed) allowed Jake Hudson to have another pop at one of his trademark drop kicks which to be fair, only narrowly missed (even with the wind!!)
Final Score (24-27).
Man of the Match goes to Matt Johnson for his electric energy, uncanny ability never to give up, two try’s, one try saving tackle and a strong performance in the ‘Neck a pint’ contest in the clubhouse after the game.
Honorable mentions must go to Kurtis Lusher, for what I believe is his first hat-trick in Leigh colors, which puts him it at 6 thus far for the season, leading try scorer. But also to Chris Atwell whom signed his name up for 20 minutes of Rugby, but instead played 80 minutes of front row and absolutely did a job for the club today!
Overall, Its safe to say, that Sittingbourne Away on the 22nd October 2017 will go down as one in Layabout history. Leigh travelled to Sittingbourne with 14, finished with 12 and a Big W on the road. The team on the day, the squad in general, and the club supporters should be proud of this one for some time to come.
After all, who needs 15 to play rugby…