Tunbridge Wells III 31 – 29 Leigh

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Leigh kick off to Tunbridge Wells at St. Mark’s Rec

Ten try thriller a great showcase for grassroots rugby

Tries: Kenny, Siddle, W. Bell, Clarkson, Lusher. Conversions: Clarkson, W. Bell

Sqaud: Eden, Taylor, Coulthurst (c), Lusher, Laubach, Merricks, Johnson, van Nieuwenhuizen, Austin, Hudson, Siddle, W. Bell, Clarkson, Kenny, N. Bell, Davies, Butler, Pullen, Attwell.

In the lower leagues tries are everything. Great for player moral, great for spectators, just what people want to see. And the sizeable crowd at St Mark’s Rec of both home and loyal Layabout away supporters were treated to some superb running and scores.  Place kicking at grassroots level is deemed more luck than skill, with the odds often stacked heavily against the kicker. Exposed windy conditions, uneven ground, dodgy or no kicking tee, a muttering crowd.  But in hindsight it was the eventual difference between the two teams yesterday who both displayed strong running games, indifferent defensive lines, and vigour in the contact.  The hosts slotted three from five conversions and missed a penalty, the visitors two from their five, hitting the upright once, falling agonisingly short from the touchline twice. Oh what could have been.

With the new earlier kick off time of 2.30pm Leigh started the game with a high ball into the Tunbridge Wells IIIs (TW) forwards. The first five minutes were evenly matched, both sides sizing each other up, running close ball at the defence. The first two scrums saw TW roll Leigh backwards far too easily, and when their fly half saw space in the Leigh 22 he drilled a superb long kick into the corner. With territory to their gain, TW pressured Leigh and an eventual mistake in defence gifted a turnover to the hosts, where they continued to batter Leigh’s defensive door. The ball was spun wide and the TW left wing on an overlap strolled over the line for the first score on 8 mins. The conversion from the touchline was good opening the scores 7-0.

Three minutes later and it was Chris Austin placing the ball on a kicking tee by the touchline at the other end and sizing up the conversion attempt. The restart after the TW try caused TW to spill, Leigh took possession, a few short runs gained yards, and then Wayne Bell broke the line, committed a few defenders, and then popped to right wing Joe Kenny on the TW 22 line. With three defenders still to beat Kenny backed himself, ran at them hard, side stepped right and went in over the line for an amazing individual score. Unfortunately Austin’s conversion was just short. Score now 7-5.

It was a physical game already and the TW scrum had clearly used up all their gas as subsequent scrums were a far cry from the bulldozer in the first five minutes. Leigh were spending a bit too much time in their own twenty two but but were also releasing the pressure well with short runs and Jake Hudson’s clearance kicks. Back up the other end, a TW scrum on their own 10 metre line ended in shambles at the back for the TW scrum half, undisturbed he seemed to juggle the ball in the air which gave Matt Johnson on the flank a great opportunity to ruin the 9s day with a quality steal. Johnson broke through the line, with a full back to beat, committed the man well, with Conor Siddle, playing inside centre today, able to take the pop pass and outpace the covering tackler for another superb score close to the touchline. Austin was unable to convert but again was agonisingly close, the score now 7-10.

Leigh were on the up for a while. Brad Clarkson on the wing took a good catch on the TW twenty two line from a failed TW clearance, had one man to beat, opted for the chip and chase, but it went too long. His confidence growing game by game. The drop kick restart from TW was the start of TW’s resurgence though.

Pressure was mounting on Leigh, the defence became narrow, it was a physical game, but too often Leigh were clustering around the ball rather than looking ahead at what they were defending. Desperate calls from Kenny and Pal Butler (now on for Clarkson who suffered a stinger on the shoulder) on the wings to spread wide in defence were not heard, and TW ran in easily for their second try, the conversion was missed to make it 12-10 after 30 minutes.

A restart from Leigh and TW were back at it again. Four minutes later and after some very good interchange passing between the TW backs and forwards, a scrum presented a perfect platform for the TW backs to launch another efficient attack. Missed tackles resulted in a converted try and their lead stretched to 19-10.

With the half drawing to a close, it was all TW. Leigh were ragged in defence, positioning was not of their usual standard, tackles were high and at ball level allowing the attacker to carry on running. Not enough was done to bring the player to the ground, either by a lower tackle or tackling in pairs giving the defence a chance to steal as the tackle hits the ground before a ruck is formed.  TW however had the bit between their teeth and again another set of good attractive passes between backs and forwards took the score to 26-10 with the conversion ably undertaken by the TW centre from the touchline. The referee blew for half time.

Something was missing from the Leigh psyche this week. Maybe the ‘3rd v bottom of the league’ situation had planted a seed of complacency in the minds of the travelling Layabouts. There was no time for deep reflection though, and a focussed half time talk just picked up on the lack of fire in the Layabouts’ collective belly. A few changes were made and Joe Kenny, who is still recovering from a long suffering groin strain, took to the bench allowing Jon Davies to make a welcomed appearance.

The second half was restarted by TW and Leigh started off strongly. You could see the newly found determination to take the ball forward, win every ruck, make every tackle. And then a double injury blow. Matt Johnson was deemed to be concussed by the referee and was sidelined, and then Zach Merricks suddenly dropped to the ground with back spasms after a tackle. Both Leigh’s line out jumpers were now off. Ben Pullen came on in the front row, Jon Davies moved to the back row from wing, Pal Butler back on into left wing.

And the arrival of Ben Pullen in the front row made an impact. The Leigh scrum was rampant, pushing TW back over their ball at least three times in a space of five scrums. This new platform gave the Leigh backs a chance to structure some great running plays. Conor Siddle was being used so effectively by fly half Jake Hudson throughout the game, providing a great crash ball line close to the forwards and making great yards each time. But it was Hudson that made a break of the line this time, with Siddle on his shoulder to take on the next tackler, Wayne Bell then taking the final pass to cover off the last ten metres with a customary swallow flop over the try line. Clarkson, now back on the pitch for Neil Bell, took the conversion and slotted it from the touchline. The score now a 26-17 and belief was back in the Leigh game.

Maybe it was something to do with that lower half of the pitch but TW seemed to be following in Leigh’s first half footsteps. Their defence was easily caught out of shape, and three minutes later Wayne Bell made another great break of the line. Hudson in support was tackled without the ball, and a penalty was given. Being in the TW twenty two Leigh chose to run it with the forwards. Toby Laubach and Kurt Lusher were go to men all game, each of them pounding the defence and gaining ground.  Skipper Ali Coulthurst with his effective ‘running back’ style of attack, was proving so difficult to take down. Chris Taylor ducking under tackles along Marcus van Nieuwenhuizen, who was so fired up now, each having a charge at the defence. The work rate and fitness paid off. TW were conceding penalty after penalty and eventually a quick tap and go found Clarkson on the wing who dropped over the line to score. His conversion attempt of his own try was met by the upright and the score stayed at 26-22. Leigh were on the up, they were believing again.

More pressure from Leigh, scrums were being turned over, runs were being made. And then for some reason the discipline went to bits. Leigh were immediately on the back foot, and it was their turn to concede compounding penalties. A missed penalty kick attempt from TW with 15 minutes to go should have been a signal to Leigh to calm things down and gain control again but more infringements. A scrum on the Leigh five yard marker and the TW pack suddenly woke up, sniffing out the opportunity and driving the Leigh forwards back over their line. The TW no. 8 dropped over the line but the conversion was missed, the score now 31-22. There was still time. Chris Attwell came on for Carl Eden who had put in an almighty shift upfront. Discipline again became a stranger to Leigh. With too much back chat after the try, the referee gave a penalty to TW instead of the restart. The game became very fractured, much protesting to the referee from both sides became the norm, small tussles started to take place on the ground.

With minutes left Leigh picked themselves up one more time, made good ground through the middle, and found Kurt Lusher who stormed his way in typical fashion to the line.  He was tackled well, but with an out stretched arm scored, though it was not enough to win the game. Wayne Bell drop kicked the conversion to make it 31-29 and the referee blew the whistle for full time.  Neither side really deserved to lose. It was a great contest and the crowd acknowledged the effort put in from both teams. Leigh did pick up a losing bonus point but it was a small consolation.

The whole squad gave their all without doubt and post-match was not the time to pick out areas to work on (that will happen at training on Wednesday).  Man of the match goes to Conor ‘Captain Collision’ Siddle. His first start for Leigh at centre giving more options to the Layabouts in the midfield and providing able cover for the currently injured and regular centre Will Bailey.  More force than finesse perhaps but effective all the same in gaining good yards and damaging a defence time and time again. He broke the gain line so many times. He was difficult to contain and he held up the ball well in attack. And Hudson’s vision to bring Siddle into play or use him as a decoy to release Wayne Bell must also be noted. Siddle’s supporting play for his try in the first and for Wayne Bell’s in the second half showed he also had some gas in the tank when needed. Well done Captain Collision, a well deserved man of the match.

Kurt Lusher took his try tally to 8 this season, topping the points score board for the Layabouts with 40.  Chris Austin sits in second place overall with 28 points for his 2 tries and 9 conversions. Jake Hudson has 4 tries, Wayne Bell with 3.

Next week it is back at the FOD to take on Vigo 2s. At the time of writing scores of the other games are not known, but last week’s 70-12 defeat of Vigo 2s (the league leaders) by Ashford 2s (in second place) made for good chatter in the bar at the Fleur and on the social groups.  We wait with anticipation. Kick off next week is at 2.30pm.