Leaders Colchester battle to gritty win against Luton in London One North
- Credit: Archant
Colchester’s push for promotion was almost blown off course by a spirited Luton performance and a tempest that blew across the Mill Road pitch.
However, with second-placed Eton Manor failing to secure a bonus point win, the leaders edged ahead in the tight London One promotion race.
The great wind buffeted the ball in flight making passing problematic, line-out throws a lottery and kicking a game of chance. Despite the conditions, both sides competed in a hard but fair game, enhanced by referee James Davies’ clear decision making.
Luton played with heart to give Colchester a challenging contest and led at half-time after playing with the wind advantage in the first half.
The visiting forwards worked hard at ball retention, attacking round the fringes and avoiding risky long passes. Skipper Jack Elston was prominent in ball carries, supported by back rowers Stuart Tompinkson and Adam Harris.
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Colchester struggled against the strong wind in the first half. Colt, Ed Perry, making his first senior start at fly-half, was limited to running the ball from defence.
Knock-ons were plentiful due to the haphazard flight of the ball and long passes seldom arrived where intended.
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Debutant lock Senitiki Nayalo impressed with his tough tackling and blistering pace that bagged him a try whilst flanker Danny Whiteman was a welcome return from injury.
The wind played a part in Luton’s early score.
Colchester’s twenty-two metre restart was drop-kicked along the ground to avoid being blown back, the bobbling ball sitting up fortuitously for Elston to take at pace and cut through the outrushing Colchester pack.
Recycled ball was fed along the line where centre Tesh Edwards powered over for the opening score, converted by fly-half Rick Hobbs.
The game ebbed and flowed for the next half hour as both teams probed each others’ defences with ball in hand, in a dour war of attrition.
Luton defended capably and attacked via slow moving rumbles forward. The Colchester pack replied in kind, Ollie Pickett and Danny Whiteman tackled and foraged tirelessly, supported by a hard tackling, hard running pack.
Number eight James McRae disrupted Luton lineouts, scrumhalf Matt Wadling harassing at the scrum.
Skipper Calum Irvine broke the impasse with a fine solo contribution. Tackling his opposing centre midway in his own half, Irvine wrestled the ball free before racing 60 metres to touchdown for the 7-5 halftime score.
The wind eased during the second half but Colchester still took charge, camping play in the Luton half for ten minutes. Graeme Hay charged to set up an attacking platform from which Wadling’s pass found Nayalo who zipped through the Luton defence for his first try for the club, David Higgins adding the conversion.
Luton continued to contest the game but Colchester built through a series of attacking phases, ending with Merry’s pass to centre Matt Smith whose angled run at speed took him through the lateral Luton defence for a well-taken try, converted by Higgins.
Colchester continued to press, Irvine making a 50-metre break only to be brought down by an ankle tap near the Luton line.
Luton were then penalised for obstruction, Higgins quickly taking the penalty and delivering an accurate cross field kick for fullback Brett Cutbush to seize and score the fourth bonus point try to seal the win.