Tonbridge Juddians 4s 7 – 24 Leigh

Leigh complete season double over local league rivals

Tries: Clarkson, Martin (2), Sewell  Conversions: Clarkson (2)

Squad: Eden, Kennedy, B. Pullen, Clifton, Howard, Pollen, Grayland, Lusher, Austin, Hudson (c), Clarkson, Siddle, Kenney, Martin, Sewell, L. Pullen, Nott, Hunt

In the build up to this weekend’s game, you just knew it was going to be a cracker. The weather delivered on its early upbeat forecast and offered the travelling and home crowd warmth on the touchline to add to the beer jackets that many were already wearing. There was even a pre-match dinner hosted by  TJ’s president and hierarchy to which both Leigh’s President Mark ‘Lardy’ Doherty and David ‘Mr Chairman’ Thorpe were duly invited, and which both appeared to enjoy massively as our picture reveals. And in all seriousness, a huge thank you to TJ’s President Andy Trotter for personally hosting his Leigh counterparts.

Rugby is the winner at the TJs pre-match dinner

Kick off was delayed by 20 minutes as TJs were still trying to assemble a team. Leigh received and the contact commenced. A very strong wave of carry and drive plays pushed the visitors up into TJs half and the ball was moved out to the backs. With a depleted back line, TJs were defending well, but Leigh were not taking advantage of the obvious overlap, opting far too many times to take on the contact and try to crash through their line. The pressure continued but the referee started to exercise his arm, a trait that continued for the rest of the game.  Leigh were visibly infringing at the ruck early on, but managed to control their enthusiasm. However the decisions were continuing to go against Leigh, and this took the steam out of the attack. TJs built up momentum, pushing Leigh back into their 22. More penalties followed, and Leigh heads started to drop. Surprisingly TJs opted for a kick at goal when awarded yet another penalty, but missed, in a way so beautifully described by the match day WhatsApp commentary team “couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo”. Credit to the kicker, he slipped as the ground was badly chewed up in places. The score remained 0-0 after 20 minutes.

Photo courtesy of Ree Stratten

TJs continued their pressure and after 25 minutes, they managed to slot a few passes together and sliced through the midfield and under the posts. Cries of forward pass were heard from the touchline but by then the conversion had been taken and the hosts were enjoying a 7-0 advantage. As is so often the case with Leigh, by making the task in hand even more challenging, it often spurs them on to greater things. This score did the trick though. A superb restart by skipper for the day Jake Hudson was ably collected by Kurt Lusher who stormed his way in stereotypical style through the defence. A series of drives followed and then the ball came wide through Hudson to Joe Kenny in the centre and then to Brad Clarkson on the right wing. With two defenders in front of him at the TJs 10 metre line Clarkson opted to grubber kick ahead, using his football skills to curve the ball towards the line, managed to beat both defenders, collected the ball low and plopped over the line. His subsequent conversion was not easy but slotted cooly. Sam Howard retired with an injury allowing Luke ‘Pielet’ Pullen to join the game. Connor Siddle moving to number 8, Rory Martin to centre from the wing and Pullen onto the left wing. The score was now 7-7 and the fire was coming back in the Layabout belly.

With a few minutes left to the half, TJs used yet another awarded penalty to take a shot at the posts to regain the lead, but again missed. The half time whistle went soon after and the teams huddled at separate ends.  Bearing in mind the huge number of penalties against Leigh in the first half, the Leigh “coaching staff” were half expecting the referee to come across to the Leigh group and offer words of caution of a possible yellow card if the high rate continues in the second half. Nothing, thankfully.

With the scores level, a few words shared in the half time huddle, and the visiting crowd now on rocket fuel, the next 40 minutes were going to be big. Leigh kicked off. And at this point it is worthy to mention the line outs. Always the achilles heel of Leigh’s game, this was not the case today. With the sun behind Leigh backs and low in the sky, the left corner of TJs 22 was prime attacking space. A rare penalty to Leigh saw Hudson launch a long left boot to touch. The line out that followed was perfectly executed by hooker Mikey Kennedy and Luke ‘Filthy’ Grayland. Grayland’s recent return to the Layabout bosom has been warmly welcomed. With the absence of normal line out jumpers Zach Merricks (suspension) and Jon Davies (flu), Grayland stepped in and delivered good ball each time. This gave Leigh so many more options; quick ball off the top to scrum half Chris Austin and then out to Conor Siddle for a ’Captain Collision’ special in midfield.  And whilst we discuss the forwards, the scrum held their own today. Won some clean ball, made themselves known against the head, and gave the half backs another platform to build from.

The game became a midfield battle. The tackles and charges were going in hard. Fly half Hudson was being targeted, TJs line speed was good but Leigh did adapt, moving the ball wide more quickly now. The game could have gone either way at this point.  TJ knock ons in the tackle were becoming more frequent and a fumble by the hosts in their own 22 gifted a nice bounce for Rory Martin who picked and scored under the posts. Conversion by Clarkson took the score to 7-14.  More midfield play and again Martin was there to deliver another crucial try following a kick and chase on the left side. Conversion was missed. Score now 7-19. Leigh relaxed in a positive way, they started to believe they could attack despite the blitz defence style from TJs. TJs were not giving up, the discipline was slipping though. More knock ons, and the occasional penalty to Leigh started to also chip away at TJs moral. TJs had a strong line out base and were now wisely using the touch kick from penalties to gain territory. They pushed the Leigh defence back up into their 22 but in their attempt to break the Leigh defence, they were fumbling far too often in the tackle and handing momentum back to Leigh. As Leigh used the sun to their advantage, pressure was put on the TJs defence and a subtle kick through their line allowed full back John Sewell to steam in from deep, gather the ball and secure Leigh’s fourth try. Conversion by Sewell was missed but the score was now a more comfortable 7-24 with only 10 minutes to go.

And so enter newbies Tim ‘Nice Tim’ Nott to the second row and Adam Hunt to the wing replacing Ben Clifton and Brad Clarkson respectively. Both contributed in those few remaining minutes. Hunt with a tackle on the wing, which seemed to take a lifetime to actually happen, the approach from the TJ runner was almost in slo mo, as the now very lively Leigh crowd and Hunt himself anticipated what could and may happen. But no, Hunt was there, he stood strong and able to relive the moment back in the Fleur. Tim Nott has only been playing rugby for a couple of weeks, though his frame and 6’ plus height would say otherwise, this made him a perfect second row partner for Lusher. There was a good shove from Nott in the scrum according to the front row, and his first catch and drive was executed with precision; wide, flat and fast into the TJ defence, with ball presented back and off we go. Well done Tim and Adam. We look forward to more games.

As the clock wound down, the crowd started a Layabout rendition of Monty Python’s ‘The Lumberjack Song’ which got them all very excited. The final whistle went. Pleasantries between the players and officials were exchanged, the game analysed on the long walk back to the changing rooms but deep down Leigh knew this double would be difficult for TJs to stomach back in the clubhouse.

Man of the match goes to Rory Martin. His two tries helped move the game away from TJs, but his defence and tackling made TJs go backwards each time, he disrupted their attack runs so often. But as anyone attached to Leigh knows, it’s about the team. Carl Eden at loose head offers such reliability every game and due to the nature of the role at this level of rugby, its a function that rarely gets recognised.  He kept the scrum square, he put them under pressure on their ball. Teaming nicely with the ever improving Mikey Kennedy at hooker, Leigh did actually see some ball arrive in the back row today. Kennedy’s line out throwing hitting target more often than not, showing that rigorous practice is paying off. Every game Ben Pullen does a job at tight head prop that many constantly shy away from or do not want to even consider. He was much closer to the breakdown this week, but just needs to find that confidence to take the ball and charge at the opposition. Ben Clifton at second row put in a huge shift again. His match fitness has improved, and his presence on the pitch is noticed. A good work rate throughout but certainly welcomed the chance to rest a dead leg when replaced.  Kurt Lusher eventually found his way to his preferred second row after starting at no.8. He is a big part of the engine room in the scrum, the potential pairing with Nott for the next few games is exciting. The metres he makes on each carry, and the tackles he breaks can only be challenged by Conor Siddle. As pack leader today he was instrumental in the line out success. Dan Pollen at flanker made a nuisance of himself in defence. Unlucky to pinged for a few turnovers but after playing on the wing a few weeks back, and then prop a few weeks before that, adapted to his role with ease as always is the case wherever he plays. Luke Grayland on the other flank had a storming game, expecting a bench start, was offered the full 80 mins and delivered hard tackles and again a new option in the line out. Sam Howard was unlucky to suffer injury to his hand and had to retire before the half. Good to see him back on the pitch after his ankle injury, and hoping we will see some more of those charging runs he made earlier in the season in the next few games.

Chris Austin was back at scrum half and controlled the game well making sure Leigh had control of the rhythm and pace when ball was in hand. And was helped by better than normal ball from the set pieces. Jake Hudson was skipper for the day and led well. His distribution in the second half yielded tries despite being under enormous pressure from the TJ back row. His kicking for territory again excellent. Conor Siddle started at inside centre and then went to no.8 but his style was consistent throughout. He was a menace through the midfield, a barrage of limbs as he attempts to break the tackle. He made good yards and like Lusher offered great attacking options. Joe Kenny started at outside centre, moving to inside later. His style today was more for the 12 position, he wanted contact so badly, and late on in the game he was unlucky not to get a try for his persistence as he knocked back several TJ defenders on his run to the line. When Brad Clarkson believes in his ability he can be electric as showed with his kick and chase try, which he nearly pulled off twice. Unfortunate to take a knock to the shin, which he tried to run off, but eventually had to make way with 10 minutes to go. Luke ‘Pielet’ Pullen came off the bench after 30 mins and slotted in very well on the left wing. He has great pace and his chase up on the kicks from Hudson helped close down the TJs three quarters on several occasions. John Sewell at full back was solid all game, tackles hard, runs smartly and was only denied a brace of tries by a great tackle late in the second half after he picked up a pass at such speed. His ability and options increase every game.

Big thanks to the match day coaching team of Chris Taylor and Zach Merricks, our WhatsApp commentator Mark ‘Dogs’ Doggett and all the travelling Layabout faithful who outnumbered the home support by quite a few. #SocialRugby

This result will probably leave Leigh at 4th in the table, but if Cranbrook beat Whitstable then 3rd is on offer. The next league game is Tunbridge Wells at home on 3rd March KO 2.30pm.