Leigh hosted it’s second international in two days when the Great Britain Students were hoping to emulate the success enjoyed 24 hours earlier by England Academy.
They got it half right, but couldn’t complete the job as a powerful Australian second half turned the contest on it’s head to score four tries.
On a cold and foggy day the sides showed some nervous handling between bruising and physical tackles before tempers frayed after 6 minutes when an all-out brawl erupted.
Australian Levi Freeman was lucky to remain on the pitch for his part but with several transgressors from the two sides it took the match officials a little time to sort out and Matt Garside (GB) and Anthony Don (Australia) were sinbinned.
Great Britain settled down first and the Students took the lead when hooker Jonnie Horton, a massive influence in the first half, darted out from behind a play-the-ball and Nigel Scott supported to go under the posts for a self goaled 6-0 advantage on 16 minutes.
With the pack featuring Adam Scott, Mike Sykes, Andy Marsh, Kris Hodson and Mark Wool, Great Britain remained in control and added a second try after 21 minutes. It came after a flowing move down the left was sparked by a Wool offload and Garside seared through the defence before finding Nigel Scott a second time.
Scott converted and then added a 26th minute penalty when Garside was tackled high. Great Britain remained in ascendancy but couldn’t add further points despite the promptings of Jymel Coleman and Horton. The closest they came to a try was in the 34th minute when Coleman and Nigel Scott gave Jack Sampson some space but Australia tackled back with relish and centre Michael Commerford stood his ground.
Three minutes later Horton split the defence and won a penalty for his side. This allowed Nigel Scott the chance to add his fourth goal and increase the hosts advantage to 16-0.
From the resumption Great Britain knocked on and sensing an opportunity Jonathan Thurston look-a-like scrum half Cameron Bruce opened the defence with a pass to Mitch Seaton who returned the favour for the halfback to go under the posts and convert.
It meant that despite not really being in the contest for field position in the first half, Australia were well poised for the second period.
While Great Britain sought the warmth of the dressing rooms, the Australian coaching staff kept the team on the pitch and it meant that they started the second half a completely different animal.
A couple of minutes into the new half Sampson was pinned behind his line and from the resulting possession, Australia drove within range for the excellent Tommy Butterfield to bury through a mass of bodies.
With Don looking an increasing threat, the fullback broke into Great Britain territory. Marsh then conceded a penalty but it took a wonderful pass out of the tackle from Seaton to unlock the defence fully for Adam Hansen to finish well at the corner. A superb touchline conversion from Bruce put the Universities in front and they didn’t look back with Gary Windass and Luke Kelly setting a good lead.
Butterfield nabbed his second try after 52 minutes and when prop Marty Cordwell powered over for the fifth Australian try in succession twelve minutes later, the game was threatening to run away from the Students.
To their credit, the Students knuckled down again with Adam Scott prominent in many of their best plays while Sampson threatened on occasion. Largely though, Australia continued to work through their game with the field kicking of Drew Dalton pushing Great Britain back in demoralising fashion before Nigel Scott combined with Adam Scott to pull back a consolation near the end.
The two teams do battle again in Cheltenham on Wednesday night with Great Britain looking to repeat their first half performance over the course of eighty minutes while the Australians want to repeat their second half dose.
GREAT BRITAIN STUDENTS
Substitutes (All Used)
20 Jymel Coleman
3 Laurence Pearce
15 Liam Gilchrist
14 Dan Kerr
1 Anthony Don
2 Hillal Kara Ali
3 Mitch Seaton
4 Michael Commerford
5 Adam Hansen
6 Drew Dalton
7 Cameron Bruce
8 Marty Cordwell
9 Tommy Butterfield
10 Gary Windass
11 Levi Freeman
12 Simon Larkis
13 Luke Muttdon
Substitutes (All Used)
14 Michael Gavan
16 Brenton Stonier
17 Luke Kelly
18 Daniel Sleeman
Tries: Bruce (39), Butterfield (44, 52), Hansen (49), Cordwell (64).
Goals: Bruce 5/5.
Sinbinned: Anthony Don (6 – Fighting).
Referee: Warren Turley
Attendance: Approx 200