National League Three

BATTLING Colchester pushed second-placed Tonbridge Juddians all the way on their own turf in a thrilling contest.

The boys in black came within one score of beating Tonbridge on their home ground and picked up two bonus points, in a game where the outcome was in the balance until the final seconds.

Colchester had selected a strong side, with Alex Mitchell returning at prop and Tom Miller taking the inside centre position.

They were awarded an early penalty for offside which fly-half David Higgins duly converted to give them an early lead.

But Juddians soon replied when their inside centre intercepted a Colchester pass, raced forward and put their right winger over for an unconverted try.

The set pieces were closely competed, with the Blacks often stealing ball.

But Juddians won their scrum in Colchester’s half and shortly after, fullback Brett Cutbush was adjudged to be off his feet and the hosts’ kicker successfully converted the awarded penalty.

Soon after, the marauding hosts came back into the visitors’ half and their quality centre burst through a gap leading to a score under the posts. However, Colchester kept their heads up and flanker Danny Whiteman earned several turnovers, giving them possession at critical times.

Captain Liam Pickett’s brilliant steal from a Juddians lineout gave scrum-half Matt Wadling time to link with his backs, resulting in James Crozier’s fine try in the corner.

Substitute Ben Murphy then made an instant impact when he quickly linked with the backs for winger Damien Brambley to score in the right corner. Juddians quickly replied through a converted and quickly another try when their number seven broke from a scrum and apparently touched down a loose ball although he appeared to knock it forward in the process.

But Colchester kept battling and after earning a lineout close to the hosts’ line, hooker Charlie Thorogood linked well with jumper Pickett and the whole pack drove towards the line for number eight Sam Easton to touch down.

Higgins converted to reduce Tonbridge’s lead to seven points, at 29-22.

Midway through the second half, Juddians’ number eight collected from the back of a scrum and fed their scrum-half who put their right winger over in the corner.

But the Blacks refused to give up and another Murphy surge allowed James Mitchell to score a converted try.

The final stages were played out with great intensity but neither side could break through the opposing defence.

Colchester centre Matt Smith was particularly impressive with his hard-tackling and ability to strip the ball from the opposition but Tonbridge held out to claim a narrow win.