Stunning second half fight back by Leigh can only secure a losing bonus point.
Tries: Coulthurst, D.Thorpe, Clarkson, Taylor
Conversions: Clarkson (2)
Last game before Christmas, and one of the furthest away fixtures of the season, so why not make a day of it. And that’s what the Layabouts did. Transport was ably organised by skipper Ali Coulthurst and a gathering of Layabout spectators joined the squad on a posh bus for this league clash with Canterbury IV. Despite being just before the psychological half way mark in the season of Christmas and New Year, this in fact marked the start of the return fixtures. Canterbury IVs were the first league opponents back in September and a 26-7 home victory was the outcome. However since then injury has made a serious dent on the Layabout squad and a few new and very new faces faced the prospect of a full 80 minutes. The weather was crisp and clear, and a light but cold wind prevailed.
The first half was spent mostly in the Leigh half, any attack made was quickly snuffed out by Canterbury and returned back down the hill. Canterbury applied steady pressure in the first twenty minutes through basic attacking rugby, and this was initially met with good defence from Leigh. A few customary rampaging runs from Kurt Lusher gave early hope, but the visitors were not clicking together as in previous matches. Uncertainty and frustration gifted a few penalties to the hosts. The referee was under assessment but after a few stop start moments he did his best to let the game flow, though games of this level will always see many restarts. And then the rot started. Unusually early fatigue was showing, there were a lot of missed tackles, and Canterbury soon scored the first of four first half tries. Leigh’s defence had no structure, tackles were often too high and ineffective, discipline was starting to disappear rapidly. Soon after Lusher left the pitch and stayed off for the rest of the game, a huge whack to proverbials causing much pain and discomfort. Jon Davies took to the pitch as replacement. Dom Thorpe then saw yellow for a slight misunderstanding on the ground with an opponent and the rest of the first half saw Canterbury ease another 3 tries past the now demoralised and infighting Layabouts. The crowd were quiet. If Canterbury had a decent place kicker then 0-28 at half time would have been a seriously steep hill for Leigh to climb. But 0-20 somehow made it slightly more achievable. The half time whistle went, what could now be done to turn this around.
The team talk at half time was simple; regain the shape in defence, go in to the contact area wanting to win the ball back and then get territory. A bit of pride and self-belief was called for, no one likes losing but if you lose not trying, then why bother. And so the second half started with Leigh heading down the slope. The usual WhatsApp match updates were on mute today … so the challenge now faced by the author is not who scored the tries, but in what order they were scored. [Edits may appear later on!!!] The following 25 minutes became a mixed blur of excitement and belief. In 15 minutes Leigh took the scoreline from 0-20 to 19-20. Canterbury just did not know what had hit them. Three tries from Leigh with two conversions from Brad Clarkson brought the game back within reach. The running game was free flowing, the ball moved through the hands well, support was present, energy levels now soaring on the back of sheer adrenaline. In defence tackles were being made lower and the desire to win in the contact was apparent. Canterbury struck back though with an ‘up yer jumper’ style pushover try from at least 10 metres out to take the score to 19-25. But then another score from Leigh (not sure who), to make it 24-25. The game balanced out for a short while, and then Leigh’s defence suddenly split open with a lack of tackles to let Canterbury run in a very simple try. The game was theirs surely at 24-30. Or was it? From the restart Leigh gained possession and skipper Coulthurst danced through the defensive line. He powered his way towards the host’s try line, drawing himself towards the posts thinking of the conversion which would give Leigh the needed point to take the lead. Over the try line he went, with two Canterbury defenders locked around him, to the back of the in-goal area, and as the crowd gasped in anticipation of a try, the ball was deemed held up in the tackle, and a scrum five yards was awarded. In the contact Coulthurst had turned his ankle and decided to retire. With Kurt Lusher (nuts) and also Sam Howard (ankle) off, the visitors went to 14 matching Canterbury who had lost their prop earlier on. This resulted in uncontested scrums. Surely Leigh would steal this now. But no, several desperate and individual attempts close to the line failed and the ball was cleared up pitch by Canterbury and eventually off to safety and the game was done and dusted. Final score 24-30, a losing bonus point a worthy attainment for a superb second half but Leigh certainly paid for their uncustomary poor first half display.
Man of the match for Leigh went to Brad Clarkson, a solid display in the second half with a cracking individual and winger’s try as he beat three down the left flank to score in the corner. Two conversions from four, with the other two not far off either. Chris Taylor’s delicate chip and chase from a solid catch and run from a restart was another highlight. Scores from Dom Thorpe and Ali Coulthurst completed the scorers. Everybody gave their all in the second half, without exception. Conor Siddle lived up to his monicker of ‘Captain Collision’ for 80 minutes, how he stayed in one piece is a miracle. Ben ‘Clothesline’ Clifton making more and more of an impact with every game, his match fitness improving. Sam Howard was unfortunate to turn his ankle yet again and now faces a few weeks of recovery. ’Kiwi Sam’ Marsden on the flank offered up more options for line out jumping, and Mikey Kennedy on the other flank showing that his confidence in contact is building. Thorpe brothers James and Dom were welcome returns to the squad, with Dom ably covering scrum half with a dash of red to those often bleach blonde locks, James able to pivot most positions on the pitch to provide ample cover. Joe Kenny who needed two trains and a taxi to make it from work in the morning (now that’s commitment) brought pace to the back line in the second half. Neil Bell had a solid second half joining the line from full back with great timing. Marcus van Nieuwenhuizen stood firm at prop and made great ground in the loose. Jake Hudson at fly half had a frustrated first half but regained control in the second. When Jon Davies eventually got himself on the pitch he delivered some huge tackles at no. 8 cover for the damaged Lusher. And not forgetting newbie David Hinchcliffe who showed he could catch and defend on the wing during the first half.
Two weeks off before Leigh return to league action keen to start the new year with a W at Medway IV on Saturday 6th January 2018.
Wishing all you Layabouts and our loyal supporters a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thanks for the support and dedication in 2017.