Slow start leaves L&Y on back foot

As a contest, this match was over after 20 minutes, as L&Y started the game in an uncharacteristically sloppy manner.

Despite fielding the same side for three consecutive games, the L&Y side that appeared in the first half was a mere shadow of the team seen so far this season and they were duly taken apart by a small but very well-drilled and efficient Wanstead side in a five-try first half blitz.

Never a pleasant experience and potentially catastrophic, L&Y actually managed to turn the game on its head in the second half, finally waking up, making good use of the wind and sun on a sloping pitch, running in three tries of their own and pushing Wanstead mightily close to conceding two bonus points.

Wanstead started the game by missing a penalty attempt but it soon became obvious their head coach, No 8 Jeremy Walmsley, and fly-half Paul Casey were dangerous operators as they dominated possession. A series of missed touch finders from an under pressure L&Y disheartened the visitors and played into the hands of the lively home team.

Not surprisingly, after a period of scrambling L&Y defence, Wanstead quick-tapped a free kick and found room to squeeze their left wing Chris Luxmore over the line. They soon realised L&Y were leaden-footed and keeping with the same high-tempo tactics, before the visitors knew it, they were another two unconverted tries down to quick thinking plays exposing the blind side wing, one by John Smith and another for Luxmore.

At this stage L&Y had barely touched the ball and were pinned in their half. On the half hour, when Casey sent a steepling kick through to confuse full-back Josh Fewkes, Wanstead forced a five-metre line-out and their scrum half Paul Christopholi bagged the bonus-point try by latching onto the back of a well-drilled drive over the line.

To their credit L&Y didn’t capitulate, but slowly managed to open their eyes, move their legs, and start playing rugby, only to be sucker-punched when Casey spotted the rush defence, coolly chipped the advancing line and ran under the posts courtesy of a kind bounce.

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Everything was going the home team’s way, and with the conversion and a penalty the 30-point lead was well deserved. When finally L&Y did get into the Wanstead 22 at the end of the half, such was their luck that Jake Titterington was harshly judged to be held up over the line after a powerful charge, then time ran out just as Wanstead were warned they were about to concede a penalty try.

With a good end to the half, some stern words from the management, and the advantage of the weather and pitch’s slope, L&Y were a different team in the second period.

Although they never managed to completely subdue the willing Wanstead side, the vast majority of the half was spent in home territory and the hosts never got another sniff of the L&Y line as the visitors finally earned the possession to play some rugby.

Man of the match Titterington kept popping up in midfield with some heavy ball-carries and, early in the half, one of these took him over the line for L&Y’s first try. Russ Chapman converted, then brothers Scott and Kris Nelson began to show what they could do with some ball, either running hard, releasing speedster Myles McAlone, or kicking intelligently down the hill to the right corner.

Some silly penalties and turnovers served to ruin many L&Y positions, and it was a long range try that truly gave them the belief they could earn something from the game.

Expecting another booming clearance from Scott Nelson, the home back three dropped deep, so when he dinked a perfectly weighted chip over the on-coming defence, McAlone was given the room to collect the ball, round the winger and sprint into the corner.

Matt Scott and Kyle Hallam came on for Tom Castleton and Steve Powles with 15 minutes left, and their fresh legs helped L&Y charge into the tiring home team. Despite giving away a lot of weight in the scrums, Wanstead were holding out gamely, although eventually the pressure told when a couple of scrum penalties followed by some blatant midfield offside cracked the referee’s patience and he awarded a penalty try, quickly converted by Chapman.

With only a couple of minutes left on the clock, L&Y finally had something besides their pride to play for and they raced back into the Wanstead half. Knowing a fourth try would take them within seven points and earn two valuable bonuses, McAlone, Titterington, Steve Adams and Richard Bristo all made inroads towards the home line, but just with the line beckoning stout defence forced a knock-on and the whistle blew.

Coming away with nothing was probably just reward for such a poor first half but, having almost managed an impossible turnaround, the team were not too despondent. Head coach Scott Nelson was upbeat, but he will probably want to give some of the bench full games with the seconds next week, and may look at shuffling some places around to stir up some more dynamism. In any rate, with over 45 players at training for the past fortnight, he has options and will look forward to putting things right away to Wymondham this weekend.

Tries: Titterington, McAlone, penalty. Cons: Chapman 2

L&Y: Newton, Howe, Titterington, Wilkinson, Coleman, Powles, Adams, Thomas (c), Chapman, S Nelson, Castleton, K Nelson, McAlone, Palmer, Fewkes. Bench: Bristo (on for Newton), Hallam (Powles), Scott (Castleton).