This week saw the Lion’s travel to Manchester RUFC to compete in the prestigious Manchester Mini & Junior Festival. It was originally scheduled to have taken place last October but had to be cancelled due to the wet weather.
This was the scene of one of the Lion’s best achievements last season when they secured five wins from five matches to complete a brilliant whitewash in a difficult group including Chester and Liverpool Collegiate.
The difference this season is that there would be semi-finals and finals for the top performing teams in the group stage – a mouth-watering prospect for the young Lions!
Upon arrival, Leigh discovered their group phase opponents – they were: Tyldesley, Wigan, Preston, Bolton and Stockport.
Over the last few seasons, the Lions had enjoyed success against all of these teams...
• Tyldesley – they’ve beaten them as recently as last week!!
• Wigan – they’ve beaten them twice already this season!!
• Preston – haven’t played them so far this season but put 14 tries past them last season!!
• Bolton – haven’t played them for a couple of seasons but put 15 tries past them the last time they played!!
• Stockport – already beat them this season – a 3-0 victory on 26/10/2019...
All things considered, there was no reason to be anything other than confident of another strong showing...
Game One: Leigh u12’s 3 Tyldesley u12’s 0
Joe kicked off, to get this one underway, and Tyldesley fielded the high ball well and took in the first drive. A fine tackle by Leigh resulted in a turnover and Cal raced over for the first Lion’s first try of the day – a great start! Cal went over again a short time later and then Sam crashed over, after a nice reverse pass from Ev. It was 3-0 at the break and Leigh looked comfortable.
The second half was a much more even affair. Tyldesley showed some attacking promise but it was Leigh who went closest to extended their lead when Louie was held up just short. The first match finished 3-0 to Leigh – a solid start!
Game Two: Leigh u12’s 2 Wigan u12’s 0
Wigan kicked off to get the second match of the morning underway. Leigh dominated the early proceedings and it was no surprise when Noah crashed over after a lovely off-load from Cal. Leigh continued to dominate but couldn’t make any further breakthroughs and it was 1-0 at half-time.
The second half was more of the same. Wigan offered little as an attacking threat and it was no surprise when Sam went over for Leigh’s second try and another reverse pass from Ev. The game finished 2-0.
Game Three: Leigh u12’s 1 Preston GH u12’s 1
Having also won their first two games, it was clear that a victory over Preston would see the Lions take a massive step toward the semis. Preston kicked off straight into touch and Leigh had an early scrum on halfway. Preston managed to repel the early pressure but then Brad came up with a turnover and Cal managed to force his way over to give Leigh a first half lead.
Preston improved after the break but, for all their possession, they were struggling to get out of their own half, that was until they managed, for once, to break the first tackle and they showed a clean pair of heels to the chasing defenders before evaded the despairing full-back’s tackle and making the score 1-1 against the run of play. The match finished – how damaging would that try be to Leigh’s semi final ambitions?
Game Four: Leigh u12’s 2 Bolton u12’s 0
Joe kicked off to get the fourth match underway and Leigh immediately set about putting their opponents under pressure and Zack nearly went over for an early try but was held up just short. The Lion’s weren’t to be denied for log though as Cal showed a clean pair of heels to the Bolton defence to fly over in the left corner. That try seemed to wake Bolton up and they moved up-field forcing penalty after penalty against an under pressure Leigh defensive unit. They just about managed to keep their discipline and focus and reached half time without their line being breached.
Bolton kicked off to get the second period underway and Sam caught the ball, after a little juggle, and took in the first drive before being well tackled about five yards from halfway. Leigh recycled the ball quickly and moved it through several pairs of hands before finding Cal on the right wing who raced around the outside of his opposition winger to score a magnificent try! That put the Lions 2-0 up and they saw out the rest of the half to record their 3rd victory of the festival and put themselves into a strong position to qualify...
Game Five: Leigh u12’s 0 Stockport u12’s 1
Looking at results so far, and the remaining fixtures, it was worked out that the Lions needed just a draw from their final game to secure qualification and, having already beaten Stockport comfortably this season, they looked odds-on to progress however, Leigh looked unusually ragged and were being overpowered in the ruck and, as a result, were starved of possession for large periods of the first half and Stockport took full advantage by scoring a good try in the right corner to lead 1-0 at the break.
The second half saw Leigh try their best to get back into the game but a similar pattern to that of the first half emerged with Stockport dominating possession and not allowing the Lion’s to get close to their line. The match finished 1-0.
No-one was sure exactly what that would mean to the final group table however, as the remaining fixtures were completed, it turned out that both Stockport and Preston finished on 16 points with Leigh agonizingly just behind on 15 points. With the top team from each of the 3 groups going through, along with the best placed runner-up, both Stockport and Preston qualified with Leigh eliminated despite picking up more points that any of the other 2nd placed teams. Heartbreak for the Lions!
Chester went on to beat Macclesfield in the final and win tickets to the Premiership Final at Twickenham although I would imagine that that match won’t go ahead following all the sporting cancellations caused by the Coronavirus.
Assuming that junior fixtures remain unaffected then the Lion’s next match is the final round of the Lancashire Cup against both Heaton Moor and Didsbury...
3, 2, 1...LIONS!