Fans were treated to fast-paced action at Sherwood Forest Park in Burlington Thursday night as the Niagara Thunder took on the visiting Leicestershire County team from England.
Leicestershire was coming off a 39-12 win over Balmy Beach earlier in the week and may have been feeling the effects of that game as the Thunder came out storming in the first half of the exhibition match. But in the end, the visitors would emerge victorious, 27-7.
Although Leicestershire occasionally had clearing kicks into Thunder territory, most of the first half saw the Rugby Canada Super league team, constantly threatening the opposition line with breaks from Andrew Wilson, Shaun Windsor, Spencer Fullerton and others. However, the finishing touches were not there and it was 26 minutes before Dave Neill was able to crash over the line, with Fullerton converting. Thunder maintained the pressure but Leicestershire managed one attack into Thunder territory and were rewarded with a penalty on the 22 which fly-half Mark Lord easily kicked. Almost immediately Leicestershire came back again for another penalty that went wide, ending the first half, 7-3 to Thunder.
The second half was a different story as Leicestershire obviously made some adjustments and suddenly were winning all the lineouts and giving their strong and elusive backs plenty of ball to run with. Within four minutes from some good footwork, offloading and support they were over the line, but Lord ‘s convert attempt hit the post.
The visitors’ kicking game was top-notch and combined with their improved lineouts they attacked again with a pass back inside to Lord who broke a weak tackle, scored under the post giving himself an easy convert and a 15-7 advantage for Leicestershire.
Five minutes late, another lineout again on the right side at the Thunder 22m, followed by a mauling drive, then quick ball out to the left with flyhalf Lord looping and a two-man overlap, saw Leicestershire fullback and captain Warren Coles go over in the corner. The convert fell short but Thunder were now down 20-7 after that fiery 15 minutes that netted the visitors 17 points.
Thunder brought in some fresh legs and with good performances from Windsor, David Jones and Dave Knowles were able to get within 10 metres of the Leicestershire line three or four times but each time were thwarted by a resolute and very physical defence, resulting in the loss of Knowles who was replaced at #8 by Chris Dubrawski.
Again Thunder attacked but despite an overlap the ball did not go to hand and the opportunity was lost. Leicestershire went back to their winning pattern, penalty to touch on the right 22 m line, driving maul, then wing Nick Griffin crashed over. Fullback Warren Coles got the extra two points to complete the scoring.
After the game Mark Lord conceded the first half was owned by Thunder who were very unlucky not to come away with two or three more tries. However, Leicestershire had not known what to expect and at half-time made the necessary adjustments to their game plan. Thunder coach Gary Whitley seemed disappointed at his team’s missed opportunities as well as a degree of physical and mental fatigue.
However, the players had been ambitious and it was a good lesson before their next RCSL fixture against Ottawa Harlequins on Sunday (June 15) at Mohawk Sports Park in Hamilton. The 2 p.m. contest will be preceded by the Lightning (Thunder’s U20 squad) vs. Ottawa U20 at noon.