Leighton Buzzard avoided relegation on Saturday despite playing the majority of their game against Melton Mowbray with 14 men.
Tom Byard’s sixth minute sending off left Buzzards facing an uphill task to secure the points they needed to avoid dropping into the Midlands 1 East bottom three, but a remarkable performance from the players saw them win 30-22 at Wrights Meadow to maintain their league status.
Byard’s sending off capped a sweet-and-sour opening few minutes, especially after captain Euan Irwin started the move which saw Ollie Taylor score the opening try of the day inside the first minute.
Byard’s dismissal came just five minutes later, as he was shown a straight red for an illegal tip tackle.
But with so much at stake, and Leighton knowing anything but victory could send them down, the seven man pack raised their game, with Jon Henkes and Jordan Cummings both having their best games for the club.
Having missed a penalty after sixteen minutes, Lee Walker extended the lead to 10-0 with a successful attempt four minutes later.
The lead was extended further after 28 minutes with a fine individual try from Euan Irwin. While the conversion was missed, Leighton had built a 15-0 lead and were halfway towards what might be a vital four-try bonus point.
Melton Mowbray’s first-half performance had been handicapped by two yellow cards that meant for twenty minutes they did not have their anticipated numerical advantage.
With their full team on the pitch, they turned up the pressure – with two minutes of the half left they scored a try in the corner, to make the score 15-5.
Time was left for Buzzards to miss another penalty attempt just before half time.
There was an anxious feel to the start of the second half but nerves were calmed after seven minutes by an exceptional individual try from Arran Perry, breaking from forty metres out.
Ollie Taylor converted to put Buzzards 22-5 ahead. However Melton Mowbray, now playing downhill, scored a try of their own only two minutes later, with their large pack driving over. With the successful conversion, Leighton’s lead was cut to 10 points at 22-12.
Fourteen minutes into the second half, Buzzards scored their fourth try securing a bonus point. Quick hands in the backs made space for Ollie Taylor to score his second try, wide on the left wing. Whilst the difficult conversion was missed, the bonus point meant that Buzzards had to win to be sure of retaining their place in the league next season. An Ollie Taylor penalty pushed the lead to 30-12 with eighteen minutes left.
With 11 minutes left, Melton Mowbray’s blindside flanker was rather harshly sent off for a second yellow card offence, reducing both sides to fourteen men. Despite this, the visitors were in the ascendency and scored again with five minutes left and then with the final play of the match to leave the final score 30-22. Both sides contributed to an entertaining game of rugby, with Leighton’s will to win and commitment a vital component of their success.
There was much celebration as Buzzards finished 10th – in a very tight competitive league only four points separated 12th and relegation and seventh place.
Man of the match was awarded to Euan Irwin, who is standing down as captain, as much for his inspirational leadership as his individual try.
Next season Buzzards will need to succeed with a new captain and without long time leading player and this season’s top try scorer Ryan Fraser, who announced his retirement.