Vigo victorious as they end Leigh’s 18 month unbeaten home run
Tries: Pollen, Whiting
Squad: B.Pullen, Eden, Attwell, Lusher, Laubach, Coulthurst (c), Davies, van Nieuwenhuizen, Clarkson, Hudson, Siddle, Whiting, Fogg, Pollen, Taylor, Kennedy, Sewell, Butler, M.Pullen, Clifton.
There was much anticipation ahead of this weekend’s game as league leaders Vigo 2s visited the FOD for the first time in several years. Vigo have been making a big statement in the league this season, a game in hand but assured victories have been notched up, that was until they played Ashford (and we now know what happened there). Leigh sitting in third place have also been racking up memorable wins, but last week’s defeat to Tunbridge Wells 3s meant a return to the drawing board for the Layabout’s coaching team during the week to freshen up on some key areas of the game. Vigo announced in the week they were bringing a squad of 20 across, which set the bar for the hosts. Leigh were faced with 9 regular players either injured or not available to play which meant digging deep into the squad and the return of some old faces such as Mark ‘Pies’ Pullen and debuts for Mikey Kennedy and Wes Whiting.
The game was a huge battle from the start. The hits were big, the pace was fast, and within several minutes, players were taking a while to get back on their feet such was the enormity of the tackles. Leigh started well, they pressured Vigo in the early phases and got into the twenty two through some good back running from Wes Whiting. Unable to convert the early efforts into a try, the Layabouts retreated slightly and a large part of the first 15 minutes was played in the middle of the park. Brad Clarkson had his first start at scrum half as cover for the absent Chris Austin, who was by now chasing the stork (or is that a heron Mr Doggett!!) to the hospital with the imminent arrival of his first born. Clarkson had started well, was vocal, was distributing but took a huge knock above the right knee which resulted in him being sidelined after only 7 minutes. Fortunately, Mike ‘Tats’ Fogg stepped in from the wing and ably took over with old timer Pal Butler making yet another appearance, though perhaps too early into the game for his liking. With Butler now on the wing and Fogg at 9, the team looked strong still. The play was all midfield, plenty of rucks, mauls, and short crash ball runs.
Vigo’s ascendancy started after about 20 minutes as they made Leigh retreat to their twenty two. The pressure on the Leigh defence was huge, there was no let up in the relentless bombardment of the Leigh try line. A line out to the visitors saw a good catch and drive and a try close to the right touchline. The resulting conversion was missed. 0-5 to Vigo. Leigh’s restart was good and high, allowing pressure on the catcher. The scrums had started to favour Vigo, but not without effort. Then a double injury blow. Skipper Ali Coulthurst had looked troubled for several minutes after an earlier tackle, and then Mike ‘Tats’ Fogg took a nasty blow to the elbow. Both had to retire, making way for debutant Mikey Kennedy on at blind side flank and John Sewell returning from injury to full back. Chris Taylor moved from full back to scrum half, and showed he is the rugby equivalent of a Swiss army knife, versatile in his ability to cover so many different positions on the pitch.
On the half hour mark, Leigh went down to 14 with a yellow card issued to Conor Siddle for what our WhatsApp commentators for the day described as ‘common assault’ but technically was tackling the man without the ball. Vigo took the advantage and ran in two quality tries during the remaining 10 minutes, though just before Siddle’s time in the bin Vigo had spilled an attempt in the left corner due to some resilient Leigh defence. Leigh’s defence was keeping them in the game but the outcome of the game even at this early stage seemed a bit fateful. The Vigo number 8 and their eventual man of the match was also sent to the bin for punching, following a collision with full back Sewell on a chip and chase. Sewell made a reckless attempt to gather the ball by sliding and whilst it was clear it was not deliberate, Sewell’s knee did make contact with the Vigo player prompting a flurry of fists in return. The ref however asked the Vigo no. 8 to take some time out. Soon after the whistle for half time was blown with the score at 0-17 to Vigo.
The second half needed Leigh to take the sting out of Vigo’s game before they could mount any serious attack in return. There was certainly no lacking in desire or commitment, but the game was already starting to take a huge toll on all the players on the pitch. Vigo were now bringing on replacements, the fresh legs very noticeable amongst the battle weary. More midfield play followed and then Vigo’s dancing centre took flight and created a nice break which resulted in a try under the posts, the try also converted to make it 0-24. Not giving up Leigh immediately took the game back into the Vigo twenty two. There was one area of concern for Vigo amid their otherwise strong game. They were coming off their feet at the rucks and killing the ball, and for a period in the second half this was happening too much for the referee’s liking and Leigh were awarded several penalties on the trot. Sewell had to retire, perhaps back from injury too soon, and a welcome return to Mark ‘Pies’ Pullen who stepped up in the front row allowing son Ben Pullen to move to second row. Pullen Sr. quickly received a baptism of fire on his return, a fumbled line out plopped into his grasp, and he was soon engulfed by the hungry Vigo defence and appearing briefly in the middle as if he had bobbed up from underneath water to gasp for air. Vigo were now attempting to hold everything up as a maul in order to turn over the ball, a clever tactic which paid dividend.
Leigh were not rolling over, and this frustrated Vigo as back chat to the ref started to appear. More penalties awarded to Leigh. And then the moment the FOD faithful had been waiting for, a Kurt Lusher ‘Moses’ special. As if by magic, Lusher found a reserve source of energy and split the defence with a surging run, one of many to appear in the remainder of the game. He broke up the right wing, a pop pass to the outside which eventually reached Dan Pollen who took flight from the twenty two and dragged defence over the line for a fantastic try. The conversion was missed but a much deserved try took the score to 5-24. More middle of the park scraps, tensions were rising and Vigo were losing their discipline as if the score was much closer. Another Vigo try followed (5-29) and then after much pressure from Leigh, Whiting was over the line for Leigh’s second. This was not a case that Vigo were weakening, Leigh were playing a better game. Take the pressure away, gain territory and build up a base to attack from. Fly half Jake Hudson was operating in stormy conditions all game, but distributed well to centre Whiting for the try, again like last week using Siddle as the decoy to good effect. The conversion was missed 10-29. Ben Clifton then came on for Toby Laubach who had contributed many effective midfield crash balls through the match.
By now the game was nearing its end, a final Vigo try which was not converted left the score at 10-34. The result a good reflection of the attacking opportunities had by each side. Vigo disrupted Leigh all game and turned their own defence into the start of an attack play with countless turnovers and forced errors. Leigh when they had the ball in the second half were much more controlled and composed despite the continual pounding they received.
Marcus van Nieuwenhuizen at no. 8 for Leigh had another energetic, hard grafting game. Often mistaken for Chris Taylor and Carl Eden, a suggestion was made that they each painted their heads different colours to help the spectators in the dimming Autumn afternoon light. Carl Eden’s line out throws were consistent, the practice paying off, and as ever solid in the front row executing his job reliably every game. Jon Davies as a stand in jumper for missing Zach Merricks and Matt Johnson often delivered good ball to the scrum half. Not only able to gather well on Leigh’s throws, he was able to disrupt opposition ball as well.
Man of the match was Chris Attwell, though Kurt Lusher took the pint challenge on his behalf back the Fleur. Attwell was solid in the front row all game, had several great runs in the loose but his sterling work up front made him an obvious choice. Another 20 minutes that became 80 eh Chris?!! Without doubt everyone in the squad gave it their all and more. Bodies were bruised but the spirit was certainly not broken as realisation of what they had just achieved and perhaps abated over the 80 minutes slowly sunk in. Vigo had the ability and resources to score more than they did, but there is something about Leigh’s resolve in defence that makes them very difficult to beat easily.
With 20 on the team sheet by the time the game started, Leigh can be proud of the size of the squad they are now developing. Many new and several old faces returning this season, with more on the periphery showing interest and making enquiries. With social rugby, the desire to win is never compromised but losing is always met with dignity and a few beers after the game. And after the game both teams were great ambassadors for grass roots rugby, back at the Fleur de Lis exchanging stories, showing respect and already sizing up for the return fixture back at Vigo in March next year. And a shout out to our ref for the day, some tense and heated moments dealt with in his typical calm fashion, but also back at the Fleur discussing the game with the players and spectators, being a part of the big rugby family. And as one Layabout stalwart often says ‘Rugby was the winner!’, and today it was even if the Layabouts were not.
A well earned rest for Layabouts next weekend with a bye round. There will however be a Ladies (and Lads) training session at the FOD on the Sunday morning (19th November) starting at 1030 until midday. And then on 25th November Whistable 2s pay a visit to the FOD as the league fixtures resume.
And finally, whilst all this rugby stuff was going on, regular scrum half and vice captain Chris Austin and his good lady wife Charlotte announced the healthy arrival of their daughter Rosie Annie during the afternoon. The remaining Layabouts in the Fleur de Lis were quick to wet the babies head that evening and celebrate the wonderful news. Another new addition to the Layabouts and perhaps there is now a need to open a crèche at the FOD ….. congratulations to Charlotte, Chris and Rosie Annie!!!