Diss Rugby Club captain Fraser Hal hailed his side’s new found mental strength after their top-of-the-table victory away at Sudbury on Saturday.
The visitors held a one-point advantage over their hosts going into the match after both had enjoyed perfect starts to the campaign, and the encounter more than lived up to all pre-match expectations as a close battle ensued.
And it was one that Diss eventually came out on top in despite seeing the home side rally back from a 17-5 deficit at the break and dominate much of the second-half, as Diss held firm to keep their perfect record intact and strengthen their position at the top of the league.
And it was Diss’ doggedness in the pressurised closing stages that most pleased Hall, who hailed the importance the victory could represent come the end of the campaign ahead of another pivotal clash with now second-placed Norwich at home tomorrow (3pm).
“It is a massive result for us,” he said. “It was a top-of-the-table clash and the biggest thing was to come here and win, which we have.
“We had a good 25-minute period in the second-half where we didn’t see the ball and had men off the field which was a bit mad, but we pulled through and got the result. Wet conditions play to our strength in terms of possession. We have an experienced pack with good size and that allowed us to close the game out.
“There were times last season where we would have lost a game like this and that is why we didn’t go up.
“However, this year there is a mental strength within the squad that we are not prepared to let games get away from us.
“That win could prove vital for us. You aim to win every game but ones like this are the most important because they give you that breathing space at the top.”
Amidst the howling wind and rain at Whittome Field it was the visitors who started the stronger with the conditions suiting their ruck and maul style of play.
And it was their superior strength in the pack that allowed them to break the deadlock after 15 minutes as mounting pressure from a scrum in the right-hand corner finally allowed Paul Cauley to bundle over. Lelieve’s resulting conversion fell wide of the posts as the visitors held a five-point advantage.
However, the visitors soon suffered a setback as John Bergin was sin-binned after 21 minutes, leaving them a man down.
Sudbury were quick to take advantage and levelled two minutes later as a flowing move from right to left released Austin Beckett to race clear and score. Tom Summers took responsibilty with the conversion but could not add the extras as his kick dropped wide.
The visitors responded strongly to the setback and got themselves back in front after 29 minutes as their superior strength proved pivotal once again.
Mounting pressure in the right-hand corner once again saw Diss gain territory in the ruck before Hall got the ball down over the line. This time Lelieve’s kick sailed between the posts to give the visitors a 12-5 lead.
With the conditions underfoot worsening, the visitors’ style of play again reaped rewards as a dominant scrum on the left-hand side allowed them to gain territory before McLure picked up the ball and raced clear down the wing to score and unconverted try giving Diss a 17-5 advantage at the interval.
With the second-half just eight minutes old the visitors saw themselves reduced to 13 men as both Richards and Craven were yellow carded for separate incidents, handing the initiative to the home side.
And they were quick to capitalise on their superior numerical advantage as a lightning quick break down the right-hand side saw the lively Austin Beckett release the impressive Shaun Smith to crash over in the corner. Summers just failed with the difficult conversion attempt but the deficit had been reduced with the score at 17-10.
The momentum continued with Sudbury who got themselves level after 65 minutes. Smith received the ball in the centre of the field before exploding down the right-hand side once again, evading four challenges to score a brilliant individual effort.
This time Colin Humphreys took responsibility with the conversion and slotted his effort perfectly between the posts to bring the score to 17-17.
However, their endeavours were soon undone as they handed the visitors a golden opportunity after 66 minutes by conceding a needless penalty 30-yards out in a central position.
Lelieve took responsibility and made no mistake, slotting his effort straight between the posts to give Diss a vital three-point lead.
And it would be an advantage they would not relinquish in a frantic final 15 minutes in which tempers flared resulting in Diss’ Jamie Burrows and Sudbury’s Humphreys being sin-binned, as the visitors held out to seal what could prove a vital victory come the end of the season.
Diss: Richards, Craven, Crotty, Cauley, Bergin, Hall, Laury, Fuller, Burrows, Peacock, West, Scott, Ludkin, Lelieve, McLure, Groom, Paske.