Perfect rugby conditions welcomed the two squads from Leicestershire and the Three Counties on Wednesday evening and this, combined with a superb playing surface at Newark produced a compelling game between the two neighbours.
Early exchanges demonstrated that Leicestershire were determined to avenge last year’s defeat and they exerted considerable pressure on a somewhat disorganised NLD team. Only resolute NLD tackling prevented Leicestershire from scoring, and it was only a stubborn scramble defence which saved them from going behind.
Eventually though, the early pressure proved overpowering and NLD conceded a try in the far corner in the 6th minute which went unconverted.
The NLD team continued to find it difficult to establish any continuity or rhythm and several promising openings went begging through a combination of handling errors and technical infringements at the breakdown. This allowed Leicestershire to build momentum which kept NLD on the back foot for much of the first half.
Continued pressure on the NLD line finally resulted in a Yellow Card for an infringement at the ruck, and the others players had to perform bravely in defence to weather the storm.
Finally, NLD began to enjoy a little more territorial advantage and from a 5 metre lineout, Josh Allen managed to sneak round the blind side from the resulting maul to score. The try was converted and the half finished with an unlikely score of 7-5 in NLD’s favour.
Head Coach, Nathan Smith, pulled no punches during the interval and reminded the players of their individual roles within the systems the squad has practiced in recent sessions.
He encouraged the players to string more phases together, adding that by doing so, more scores would follow.
The players responded accordingly and the forwards began to establish hard earned dominance over the Leicestershire pack. This dominance continued to produce better quality ball and more phases of play between the front eight and the backs.
From a Leicestershire kick which failed to find touch, the NLD backs worked the ball from the Left Wing, via the Full Back and then Centres to produce an incisive break down the right.
Quick ball from the breakdown resulted in the ball being shipped across the back line and culminated with Elliot Henry finishing in the corner.
The try was unconverted.
By this time, NLD were beginning to play much more to their potential and increasing pressure, particularly by the Front Row, continued to destabilise the Leicestershire pack enabling the home side to get very much on the front foot.
The dominance up front paid dividends in the 58th minute when the scrum forced a knock on by the Leicestershire Scrum Half about 10 metres out.
From the ensuing scrum, the NLD pack produced quick ball which moved quickly through the Centres’ hands and provided a simple run in for Ben Usher to score in the left hand corner.
Again, the try went unconverted.
After the restart, the NLD backs displayed some of their running and handling skills moving the ball from their own 22 beyond the half way line before an unfortunate knock-on brought the play to an end.
With the Leicestershire team tiring, NLD began to meet their coaches’ aspirations with multi-phase play producing quality possession. This produced the evening’s best play – from scrappy ball behind the scrum in the NLD 22, the ball was moved quickly by the Scrum Half and following line breaks by the Fly Half, Full Back and both Centres, phase ball from the back of a ruck near the Leicestershire 22 provided quick possession through the hands of first Scrum Half and No.7 allowing Ed Bloodworth to pirouette over the line for the game’s final try.
With the conversion, the score reached 24-5 and the final whistle followed only a few moments after the restart.