Leigh 29 – 12 Tonbridge Juddians IV

Layabouts remain unbeaten at home with victory over TJ 4s

Tries: Lusher, Austin, Hudson W. Bell, Merricks  Conversions: Austin (2)

Squad: Coulthurst, Eden, B. Pullen, Attwell, Lusher, Siddle, Laubach, Merricks, van Nieuwenhuizen , Johnson, Austin, Hudson, W. Bell, Bailey, Kenny, Clarkson, L.Pullen, Fogg, Bray, Butler

The history between the Layabouts and Tonbridge Juddians goes back to the very start of Leigh’s existence, after all it was TJ’s kit that was “borrowed” for Leigh’s very first game against Old Street on the village green. Over the years Leigh have taken their fair share of the spoils when the two sides have met, but the last encounter with their 4s two seasons ago saw TJs secure a convincing victory at The Slade.  Leigh were savouring the opportunity and with a “against the odds” win at Sittingbourne the week before, confidence was rocketing.

Before the start TJs surprisingly announced they had no available front row for the game and scrums would go uncontested. Leigh kicked off right on the hour and immediately put TJs under pressure in their twenty two. Pressure and big hits followed but an unfortunate knock to in form centre Will Bailey, twisting his knee in contact, saw him take an early departure from the game some minutes later. It took Kurt Lusher less than 10 minutes however to deliver one of his rampant charges across the try line and get Leigh off to a grand start. Chris Austin converted to take the score to 7-0. The pressure continued at the restart, Leigh pushing TJs back again with wave after wave of attack, and eventually Austin nipped over in the far right corner, hitting the upright on the conversion attempt to make the score 12-0 after 15 minutes.

After a slow first quarter the visitors started to make an impact on the game, bringing together attacking runs and passes, but all met by a solid Leigh defence. Again Leigh pushed TJs back down towards the railway line end and a short pop to fly half Jake Hudson from Lusher gifted Leigh their third try.  Austin ably converting in front of the posts to take the score to 19-0.  TJs did however step up a gear again realising this could run away from them. It was clear TJs were a team of individual talents that was now starting to get to know each other. A series of pick and go runs from the back of rucks or the uncontested scrums gave a good platform for the TJs scrum half to distribute to the back line. TJs lacked a bit of familiarity to showcase their individual ability but on several occasions they came close to the Leigh try line, only to be fended off by some good, solid and occasional clever defence work.

Matt Johnson took a knock, had to leave the pitch for a head injury assessment,  and was not able to return to the game as a result. Soon after the referee blew for half time at 19-0. The fifty plus crowd at the Field of Dreams had been shown some gritty rugby in the first half, what would the remainder of the game offer.

TJs kicked to Leigh for the start of the second half. It became a tussle of rucks and mauls, several knock ons leading to uncontested restarts. Lineouts were going relatively to plan for each side, when they were straight, and the game was back and forward in the midfield. Then a break of the TJ line and the Leigh backs set off, with Wayne Bell taking the final pass to flop swallow style over the line on the right touch line. The subsequent conversion just wide leaving the score 24-0.

TJs however were not giving up on the game and the score was not reflecting the effort and ground they were making in attack. Leigh did start to lose shape and discipline, conceding several penalties in their own half giving TJs the ground to build up for their first try, the conversion attempt short, the score going to 24-5. Leigh did answer straight back with a great build of plays and Zach Merricks taking the ball over for Leigh’s final score, the conversion again just wide leaving the points at 29-5.

Soon after the restart, Leigh were on the back foot and in their twenty two again. TJs pounding their defence, placing fly half Hudson under pressure. However his calm left boot, as has been demonstrated all season, put matters back up the pitch and eventually knocked into touch. The referee called ‘last play’, and Leigh just needed to win the ball, and pop it into touch to close the game out …. but a distant, well lubricated voice from the touchline said ‘Come on Layabouts, let’s have another try” and so the ball was run wide back into play.  TJs turned the ball over quickly at a breakdown, took Leigh back into their half, penalties were conceded in the process and eventually TJs cruised over the try line to claim a deserved and converted second try to see out the game at 29-12. The final whistle however gave Leigh another home victory at the FOD to savour, and making it 5 wins from 6 in the league for the season. Leigh’s squad is showing depth and versatility as the season progresses and the regularity of players in key positions is having a huge impact on the team’s ability to build a platform and attack with results.

Man of the match was fly half Jake Hudson, again showing that he can not only run the team out of trouble but his left boot is becoming extremely resourceful in finding space behind the opposition to help release any unwanted pressure. In defence, his slight frame may make him seem an easy target for contact, but he tackles with such purpose, disrupts the ball and takes the runner out of the game.  Late on in the match his opposite number was left on the deck for a short while to simply grin and reflect on the Hudson barnstormer he had just received.

Next week the Layabouts head down the road to bottom of the league Tunbridge Wells 3s. However as we all know, this league can spring surprises and past games at St Mark’s have always been closely contested. Kick off at 2.30pm.