WALSALL v LEEK, MATCH REPORT
As the score line suggests there wasn’t much between these Staffordshire rivals and in a close fought, nip and tuck match, the home side prevailed with a well taken try in the 78th minute.
Leek opened the game with what wind there was at their backs and on 4 minutes won a penalty for tackler not releasing after a lineout just outside the Walsall 22. Gary McDermott converted to open the scoring at 0-3.
From the kick-off, Leek found themselves on the back foot and was penalised on the floor for not releasing the ball and the Walsall fly half duly levelled the scores at 3 all on 7 minutes.
At the first scrum, Leek was penalised but the long range penalty effort fell short. Despite this, Walsall laid siege in the Leek 22 with stiff resistance in reply until a knock on gave Leek respite on 13 minutes.
Coming into the game now, Leek started to wake up and on 20 minutes a penalty to Leek for off feet at the ruck allowed McDermott to get Leek back in front with a penalty. 3-6.
On 25 minutes, a Leek lineout win and subsequent maul towards their own 10 metre line on the left seemed an innocuous part of the game until the Walsall No.8 appeared with the ball and sprinted down the right hand touch.
One ruck and good hands left saw the Walsall centre with an overlap and he went over for the opening try on the left. The conversion was good and Walsall took the lead for the first time at 10-6.
On 29 minutes, the referee yellow carded a Walsall forward for a persistent team offence of slow release and this led indirectly to Leek’s opening try.
From the lineout, good retention in midfield allowed Luke Hardern, Jack Conlon and Matt Leadingham to make ground inside the Walsall 22. Leadingham made the Walsall line before being tackled but alert scrum half Ollie Drew was on hand to pick up and score in the left hand corner.
McDermott’s conversion failed but Leek retook the lead at10-11 on 32 minutes.
From the kick-off, an all too easy penalty for Walsall for not releasing the ball carrier led to a simple penalty conversion and Walsall retook the lead at 13-11. The half petered out with neither side able to gain any meaningful advantage.
The 2nd half started with Leek yet again conceding a penalty from the kick off when they were caught offside on their own 22. The simple penalty extended Walsall’s lead now to 16-11.
Luke Staton then joined the match and he instantly won the kick-off and charged into the Walsall half. This seemed to wake Leek from their general lethargy and Walsall infringed twice at which Leek took quick taps to create space on the left for Joel Booth to crash over for Leek’s 2nd try.
McDermott’s excellent conversion gave Leek back the lead at 16-18.
On 51 minutes another penalty for not releasing gave Walsall the chance to take the lead again and the reliable fly half made no mistake. 19-18.
However from the kick-off Leek won a penalty for handling in the ruck and McDermott put Leek back in front at 19-21.
Then on 64 minutes, what should have been the decisive moment to help Leek was played out. A Walsall forward was yellow carded for stamping and 4 minutes later Sam Hunt had burst through the home defence and his pass to Dan needham had the scrum half up to the Walsall line. A huge tackle on the line meant the next player needed to pick up and score but unfortunately tripping over the tackler, a penalty went to Walsall for diving off feet and Leek’s chance to close out the match went begging.
Still Leek was in control and on 78 minutes were deep in the Walsall 22 when a knock on allowed the Walsall centre to hoist a long clearance kick. It bounced into touch on the Leek 22 but Leek’s throw was not straight. The Walsall scrum won the ball and a couple of ruck phases set up a blind side break for the right wing to sprint in to the corner for the decisive try. The conversion missed and with 9 minutes of added time to play, there was still time for this match score to twist again. 24-21.
Unfortunately for leek it didn’t as Walsall kept the pressure on until Leek was forced to run from its own line. Crossing the half way on the last play, the move looked promising as George Hunt moved over the Walsall 10 metre line but his pass went forward to Tom Scragg and the referee blew for time.
It had been a tight game with neither side really gaining dominance for very long. Walsall just about deserved the win as Leek didn’t really get into the game 1st half and the Moorlanders need to work harder at starting games on the front foot and ensuring they play on non-league Saturdays.
The loss moved Leek down to 5th and Walsall move to 3rd. Tamworth climbs to 4th after beating Shrewsbury and Stourbridge Lions continue their league dominance with a big win over Stafford. Camp Hill retained 2nd place with a win over old Saltleains.
Kidderminster beat Newcastle and Leek visit their North Staffs rivals this Saturday for a first league encounter in a few years. Kick-off is at 3pm.
Author John McDermott