As I walked to the pitch and saw a team in blue warming up my first thoughts were “how will the referee be able to distinguish between the two teams?” and “where are the Benchwarmers?”. Before going back to the car to make sure I had turned up at the right venue, I wandered over. It was not a mistake, the usual warm up of messing under the posts had been replaced with the team warming up without either coach in sight. This new focus could only mean one thing – “business”.
This match was going to be the toughest test to date and for once the opposition team seemed to match the Benchwarmers in size. From the kick off, it was clear that this was going to be a physical encounter. The forwards were driving in like men on missions. Alex, Danny and Jonny were definitely up for a battle. This seemed to be a shock to the visitors and it took them a while to come to terms with it.
The early exchanges were littered with knock-ons from the pressure of the tackling from both sides. Neither team could get back to back sets and it quickly became an end to end game.
Then, with 13 minutes on the clock, a moment of shear genius. The forwards had driven hard to half way with Paddy, Sean and Jonny forcing Leigh back. The platform gave the backs some momentum. The ball went along the back line and a planned “run-a-round” move between Robbie and Tom B created the extra man which Josh exploited to sprint clear and touch down in the corner. OSJ were ahead and on balance deserved the lead.
The battle continued from the restart. Leigh clearly wanted to level things and made good metres in their first set. A kick on the final play was collected by Josh at the back who steadied the ship. On the second Michael found a gap and raced through it. The crowd thought he was going to make a full length try but a brilliant chase from one of the Leigh boys saw him tackled just short of the line. Some great defence kept OSJ out despite major pressure.
The physical intensity went up another gear. Some hard tackling saw Sean picked up by 3 players and dumped unceremoniously to the ground (fortunately as a forward, it took several minutes before he realised that it hurt!). OSJ put similar pressure on the visitors and tackles from Jack and then Jordan saw the ball dropped. With the ball back in home hands, Tom B and Robbie played key parts in making space for Michael who, with some “fancy footwork”, found a gap and went over under the posts. Josh converted and at half time the home team were 10-0 up.
This was a bruising battle and OSJ were holding firm. The team talk from the visiting coach could be heard by all and it was clear that they had not been expecting this welcome from the ‘A’ league’s new comers.
The second half saw the visitors come out with new focus putting OSJ under pressure and within 5 minutes they had scored under the posts (10-6). From the restart, the blues won consecutive sets of 6 due to a penalty. The march up the field had put them on Leigh’s try line and they were looking for weak spot. On the last tackle, Dec picked up and saw the gap. Diving over he secured the try and the blues extended their lead (14-6).
Further exchanges followed before Leigh found some space. With the try line beckoning, it was the Red & Blacks that made the error and knocked on (Dylan’s tackling form from previous weeks had not deserted him). Relief from the sidelines but then disaster. From the scrum, the ball was lost over the try line and with Leigh the quickest to react the ball was touched down. At 14-10 the sense from the side was that the visitors were starting to gain the upper hand.
Fortunately, Leigh could not build on their change in gear or the mistakes from the home team. They also made handling errors and could not capitalise on their possession or the breaks that they were making.
With the clock ticking away, nerves from the supporters started to build. At last OSJ managed to keep hold of the ball for a full set – something that they hadn’t achieved for over 10 minutes. They made progress up the right hand side of the field and Tom R set Enis up to score in the corner. With the score at 18-10 and only minutes to play, it seemed that the game was over. But, the Benchwarmers tried their best to make life hard for themselves. Careless offsides and penalties could have proved costly but time was on their side. The referee blew for full time and a famous victory had been won.
The game showed the great character that the boys have. They worked hard in defence and threw everything at the visitors in attack. Solid work from all the forwards and some excellent passing from the back line created the spine of the victory. This was a great step forward that proves the boys not only deserve to be in the top flight but that they can compete with the best. But, the coaches made it clear that mistakes in the second half need to be ironed out and tackling needs to be honed which means more hard work in the coming week.