LONDON LEAGUE TWO NORTH EAST: Diss 30 Old Cooperians 15
Diss made light of their injury crisis with a convincing bonus-point win over early pacesetters Old Cooperians at Mackenders on Saturday to leapfrog their opponents at the league’s summit.
After taking a 10-5 lead into the interval thanks to Philip Leleivre’s try, the Blues showed their character by responding in perfect fashion to falling behind at the start of the second period in a rousing display.
Another strong home crowd were left jumping for joy as Steve Hipwell, Freddie Precious and Leleivre all crashed over the whitewash to secure top spot for Dave Smith’s men ahead of next week’s break for cup games.
Against a side who had made a flying start since winning promotion last season, chalking up four straight wins, expectations in the home camp had been understandably low with six first-team players missing through injury and unavailability in captain Fraser Hall (wedding), Kimi Latu, Chris Beaird, Will Hudson, Sam Jacobs and Jack Peacock.
Kiwi John Laurie (shoulder) was only fit enough for the bench as one of three replacements, while second-team captain Adam Goymour started on the left wing and teenager Precious, on the opposite flank, was handed only his second first-team appearance.
Australian fly-half Sean McClure kicked Diss into the lead from an offside penalty three minutes in before the hosts found themselves fortunate to survive two dangerous attacks from the confident visitors.
Smith’s side began to put some good phases together but were guilty of twice undoing their good work through mistakes at the ruck.
Diss’ Jamie Burroughs was on hand to provide a try-saving tackle to prevent full-back Tom Morgan reaching his target destination.
The attack had seen the hosts’ injury problems compounded though as stand-in skipper Giles West was forced to leave the filed with concussion after taking his second big hit of the game with Laurie forced into an early return as Smith shuffled his pack, with Matt Richards later limping off as well.
Leleivre provided a moment of individual brilliance just after the half-hour mark to score the game’s first try. The outside-centre caught a loose ball just into Old Cooperian’s half and seized his chance to catch the opposition defence cold by darting through with a jinking run seeing him evade two tackles on his way to the try-line. McClure was able to add the extra two for a 10-0 lead.
The visitors’ response was almost instantaneous though, as within two minutes a quick bit of thinking from Leleivre’s opposite number, Joe Bilton, providing a kick to the right-hand side for impressive winger Kolade Awobowale to show his turn of pace. Craig Ratford’s conversion fell short though to leave Diss with a five-point advantage come the interval, which had been just reward for the way their forwards had given them the upper hand both with and without the ball.
Within a minute of the restart Old Cooperians went ahead for the first time. With almost a carbon copy of their first try, replacement Greg Fox this time provided the kick for Awobowale to chase down with Morgan’s conversion kick, Ratford having gone off injured, making it 12-10.
A penalty from McClure edged Diss back ahead as the hosts got back to calling the shots in their opponent’s half.
Their pressure paid off in the 54th minute when the influential Steve Hipwell broke through from the base of a scrum for an unconverted try.
With 20 minutes to go in an enthralling encounter, Morgan kicked a penalty over to reduce the deficit to 18-15 after Diss were penalised for being offside.
With the match poised on a knife-edge, the Blues applied the pressure inside the league leader’s 22 and saw it pay off in the 64th minute when Hipwell spun the ball out from a scrum to Leleivre and the Frenchman shipped it across to the right for Precious, who smartly stepped inside the full-back to score. The home crowd sensed a memorable victory was within reach when McClure put a tricky conversion over for 25-12.
A moment of quick-thinking from teenager Precious helped put the result beyond doubt four minutes later.
After a kick to the right-hand corner had seen Old Cooperians’ captain Harry Fayers concede a needless lineout with a poor attempt at a catch, Precious seized the opportunity to take a quick feed for Leleivre, who jinked over the line once again. McClure was unable to add the conversion this time, but Diss held firm to record a 30-15 victory and in denying their Upminster-based opponents a losing bonus-point, leapfrogged them into top spot.
Diss: 1 Richards, 2 E Hudson, 3 Groom, 4 Abercrombie, 5 J Page, 6 Trede, 7 Fuller, 8 Hipwell, 9 Burroughs, 10 McClure, 11 Precious, 12 Girdler, 13 Leleivre, 14 Goymour, 15 West (c). Replacements: Passmore, Laurie, Jones.
Diss Express Man of The Match: Several top performers to choose from but John Laurie, who described himself as only 60 per cent fit, made a huge difference with his ball carrying, getting Diss across the gain line time and time again.
* For a video interview with head coach Dave Smith, log back on to this website from 1pm on Monday and see Friday’s print edition for the thoughts of star man John Laurie.