LEIGHTON BUZZARD 27– 17 STRATFORD UPON AVON
Leighton Buzzard finally managed to defeat Stratford upon Avon in a dramatic Intermediate cup third round match. With the score tied at 17-17 for half–an-hour in the second half and with extra time looming, Buzzards scored twice in a dramatic denouement to take their place in the fourth round.
Having lost the toss, Leighton kicked off with the benefit of the slope. Whilst Buzzards had the majority of territory and possession in the early stages, any momentum was disrupted by numerous penalties. However after thirteen minutes they took the lead – the initial break was through a combination of Eddie Wiggins and James Brett and, whilst the line was crossed, the referee was unsighted and awarded Leighton a 5 metre scrum. With the Buzzard scrum dominant, the Stratford scrum was pushed back for no.8, Zak Tift to pick up and touch-down. The conversion was missed leaving Buzzards 5-0 ahead.
The centre pairing of Euan Irwin and Mike Robert almost fashioned a further try, five minutes later, but the final pass was knocked on. However , after twenty-five minutes, Leighton extended their lead as winger Arran Perry ran strongly from 30 metres out, crashing through a couple of attempted tackles to score near the posts. Fly-half Lee Walker, making his return to first team action after a couple of years away, converted to give Buzzards a 12-0 lead.
Both Ellis Bisgrove and Jacob Murtagh went close but Buzzards third try again came as a result of their dominant scrum. This time, Zak Tift combined well with James Brett for the scrum half to score for a 17-0 lead. As half-time approached Leighton appeared well in control – the visitors, whilst competitive, had not come close to scoring and the Buzzard pack was bossing the tight play.
However, there was an unexpected twist to the unfolding drama– the referee had become frustrated by Buzzards’ regular infringements and gave a yellow card for cumulative team offences to the unlucky Arran Perry, just as the half drew to a close. Whilst Leighton still led 17-0 at half-time, the first eight minutes of the second-half, with Buzzards down to fourteen men, saw a dramatic change of fortunes.
Stratford were immediately on the attack from the start of the second half – tactically astute and using the extra man advantage well, an excellent cross-field kick was re-gathered for a first try after less than two minutes. Only a minute later, following a fine break from inside their own half, and helped by some poor tackling, Stratford scored again. With the conversion successful, the score was 17-12. In addition to the points, it was clear the visitors’ confidence had risen considerably and they were the team playing with the sharper focus. When Buzzards inexplicably lost the ball from their own scrum, Stratford were first to react to score their third try. Less than ten minutes of the half had been played and the score was 17-17.
Buzzards steadied themselves from these unexpected and rapid setbacks, and play became evenly matched and competitive. Leighton slowly began to put phases together and strong running, particularly from Reece Harris- Smith drove Buzzards forward. Whilst both sides had their chances, the score remained unchanged for almost thirty minutes. Finally Zak Tift, who had an excellent game, drove over after some good team handling. Buzzards knew that a successful conversion would mean they could not lose in normal time but despite the importance of the kick, Lee Walker nervelessly slotted the conversion for 24-17. With only one minute left and knowing that one final score would confirm victory, Walker skillfully added a sweetly-struck drop goal from fully forty metres to secure victory at 27-17 and complete an impressive performance for the returning fly-half.
Full credit goes to Stratford upon Avon for their part in an entertaining and well matched game. Next week Buzzards return to league action away at Leicestershire side Belgrave.