Leighton Buzzard got off the mark immediately in their Midlands 1 East campaign with a nail-biting victory over Oundle, winning 41-38 on Saturday.
New head coach Tom Mowbray will have been impressed with his side’s attacking prowess, turning arounf an 18-3 deficit.
But he will be demanding more from his defence after they let slip a comfortable 41-21 advantage with 20 minutes to go to make it a closer game than he would have liked.
With new skipper Mike Lynch having lost the toss, Leighton kicked off with the advantage of the slope in warm and sunny conditions.
In the initial stages the visitors controlled the ball in midfield and a long penalty allowed Oundle to take a 3-0 lead after three minutes.
When Buzzards finally gained possession, an excellent backs move put debutant Eddie Wiggins, who was to have an excellent game, into space.
Whilst he was tackled short, a penalty was conceded allowing Lee Walker to level the scores 3-3 after six minutes.
A further penalty gave Oundle the lead once more but Buzzards bounced back with winger Arran Perry going close in the corner.
However Buzzards tackling seemed suspect, allowing the visitors to score tries in the 20th and 22nd minutes to build up an 18-3 lead.
Now chasing the game, Leighton attacked again with a fine break from Ashley Walsh although the try-scoring pass didn’t go to hand and it broke down.
Finally the pressure told – a scrum was taken rather than a kickable penalty and, after a couple of phases, Mike Lynch broke through to score under the posts. Lee Walker converted to make the score 10-18 after half an hour.
Three minutes later, a super break by Mike Robert was spread wide to Arran Perry, who slipped the ball inside to James Ward to score in the corner to pull the score back to 18-15.
With two minutes of the first half left, Oundle extended their lead from another penalty to leave half time 21-15.
Buzzards were now playing uphill but towards the end of the first half had hinted that they were fairing the better of the two sides in the very warm conditions. So it proved with the decisive period of the game with Leighton scoring four tries in the third quarter of the game.
Almost straight from the kick-off Arran Perry scored Buzzard’s third try to reduce the deficit to just a single point at 21-20.
Five minutes later a penalty was kicked to touch and, from the resulting rolling maul, hooker Ashley Walsh broke clear and side-stepped the full-back to put Buzzards into the lead for the first time. Darren Braybrook, who had now taken over kicking duties, converted to make the score 27-21.
Six minutes later, Jack Whitehouse broke the defensive line to score a fine try, again converted by Darren Braybrook.
Two minutes later Wills Messum made the decisive break, he passed on to Eddie Wiggins and finally to mobile second row, Richie Graydon to score. Again Braybrook converted to leave Buzzards 41-21 ahead with twenty minutes to go.
Amazingly, the discipline of the Buzzards was so good that the first penalty they conceded in the second–half was after 23 minutes but the referee felt that Jack Whitehouse’s tackle merited a yellow card. Oundle, seemingly beaten only five minutes, earlier found new purpose.
They drove over from a line-out after 28 minutes and scored a further try two minutes later – neither were converted to leave Buzzards 41-33 ahead.
With renewed pressure and a nervous home crowd, there was now frantic defence – inexplicably the Buzzard pack, that had looked solid all afternoon, lost a lost scrum against the head, giving the opportunity for the visitors to score another try. The conversion hit the post to leave Buzzards three points ahead 41-38.
From the kick off Buzzards controlled the ball to play out the last two minutes to secure a bonus point win.
Leighton will be delighted with the mobility of their pack, the sharpness of their backs and their sheer will to win, although will need to improve their defence and the speed of the recycled ball.
Next week, Buzzards make the long trip to Nottinghamshire side Paviors