TAMWORTH v LEEK MATCH REPORT
Leek travelled to Tamworth on Saturday and although losing by 4 tries to 2, the squad that played showed that the future is in good hands….
…. as the youngsters amidst the experienced players proved excellent under pressure and in attack.
Leek probably shaded possession and territory but it was the opening 30 minutes that left Leek far too much to do as the alert, quick Tamworth back 3 took the game to Leek and scored 3 excellent tries from which Leek couldn't quite recover.
Jack Newton Taylor was at full back with Kini Buli and Joe Cooper on the wings. Youngster Adam Varley was given his chance at 12 with George Hunt having to move from flanker to 13, given the injuries to Leek's flankers.
Sam Hunt was back at 10 with Dan Needham at scrum half.
Joe Newton Taylor, Ed Cheadle and Bobby Cheadle started in the front row with skipper Luke Hardern and Andy Thompson at lock.
Joel Booth was joined by 2 youngsters in the back row on the flanks and both took their chance superbly with Tom Fairhurst and Billy Kidd proving with dedication, training and sheer hard work, they can claim 1st XV places.
A mix up at selection meant Leek travelled with only 2 on the bench but both were to play major roles in the game with Isaac Reaney covering the backs and Lewis Dunleavy covering the front row and lock positions.
Leek, as so often this season, started slowly, conceding a try in the opening 2 minutes. Having retained possession and created a ruck on their own 10 metre line Leek were turned over and quick ball left through the hands of the Tamworth backs had the centre and wing outflank the covering defence for the wing to score . The conversion was good and Tamworth led 7-0 with less than 2 minutes on the clock.
At the kick-off, Leek won a penalty on Tamworth's 10 metre line but Sam Hunt's long range effort fell short and then on 12 minutes, Leek's lineout was adjudged not straight and from the scrum on Tamworth's left, the fly half performed a neat run around to create the overlap for the speedy centre whose pass to the full back had him score by the posts. The conversion was good and Tamworth led 14-0 after 13 minutes.
Leek needed to respond and this they did with a lineout on their left in the Tamworth 22. A good drive and then rucking got the forwards to near the Tamworth line but after at least 10 phases Tamworth's accurate and brave defence held out and won a penalty as Leek held on in the tackle.
Leek's task was made harder on 21 minutes as full back and talisman, Jack Newton Taylor sustained a groin injury. Isaac Reaney came on at full back and played well but could do nothing about Tamworth's 3rd try on 28 minutes.
Leek was penalised for a high tackle and Tamworth kicked for the lineout in Leek's 22 on the left. Good Leek defence initially held the attack up but when the ball sped to the backs, a nice move out wide right created an overlap for the wing to score the 3rd Tamworth try. The conversion was good again and at 21-0 with 28 minutes gone, it looked bleak for Leek despite their parity in possession and territory.
It needed some inspiration and it came from fly half Sam Hunt on 31 minutes as he made a superb break from a pass after the ruck. Sprinting into the Tamworth 22 his pass was deflected back by a defender who then inadvertently kicked the ball dead in goal, giving Leek a 5 metre scrum under the posts.
At the scrum Tamworth's pack was warned for offside as the Leek pack inched its way to the line and from the opted rescrum, Joel Booth picked up, set up the 1st ruck before getting on the end of a pass 2 rucks later to crash over the line and get Leek back into the game on 33 minutes.
The conversion missed but at 21-5, Leek's hard work and determination deservedly gave the team some hope for the 2nd half.
Half time Tamworth 21-5 Leek.
Again, the team talk by Lee Pickles, as so often this season, saw a change in the Leek tactics and energy levels. Leek kicked off at the half and defended well for 2 minutes as Tamworth kicked the ball for a lineout. Leek won it on their left on half way and then spent 4 minutes in possession driving up field with their forwards, introducing the backs on short runs and being very accurate in ball retention. As Leek got to within 5 metres of the Tamworth line on 46 minutes, a Tamworth forward was yellow carded for slowing the ball at the ruck. Leek kicked for the lineout on the right but the ball was knocked on. The Tamworth scrum just held onto the ball as the Leek pack put in a huge drive but as the ball came back to the fly half, standing deep in goal, Sam Hunt half charged the ball down and it flew to Kini Buli. The reaction of the Tamworth left wing prevented the immediate score but after a couple of rucks the ball was passed to Adam Varley and the youngster burst through from close range by the posts to score a deserved try. Sam Hunt converted and at 21-12 with 49 minutes gone, it was game on with Leek now having wrestled the momentum away from the home side.
The next 15 minutes saw both sides trying to land a decisive blow for different reasons but as Leek approached Tamworth's red zone, the final pass or another infringement meant they couldn't quite convert and Tamworth were content to kick the ball downfield and force Leek to work hard to get out of their half. It was here we saw the makings of the 2 young flankers, Tom Fairhurst and Billy Kidd who both fearlessly ran with the ball, supported and tackled anything that moved and that also went for even younger, Lewis Dunleavy who started at loose head and moved to lock as Leek tried to rotate a few forwards. These 3 players along with Adam Varley who was Leek's man of the match with his bravery and ability to run at defenders and retain possession could well define Leek's season to come. (See attached photo of Adam running the ball at the Tamworth defence). All of the forwards deserve credit for their performances with Ed Cheadle and Joel Booth leading the defence and skipper Luke Hardern playing his best game of the season. The front row and locks won a few penalties at scrum time as the Moorlanders' 8 shaded that set piece.
With the last 15 minutes approaching, all the spectators and players could see the imminent arrival of a storm in the middle of a gale force wind and this final passage of play was played out with fantastic character by both sets of players with the rain falling horizontally. They were still pounding each other until the final play on Leek's 10 metre line. With the ball passing across the Leek line the ball was unfortunately dropped and a grateful Tamworth kick through and then kick ahead had the centre scoring the all-important 4th try in the right corner. The conversion was superb in the conditions and the whistle blew then at 28-12 with that last score probably flattering Tamworth in the final analysis. However, Tamworth deservedly won the game and must now end the half season with a trip to Ludlow for a top of the table clash.
Leek lost their 4th league game this season, all away from home to all the sides above them, Tamworth, Ludlow, Camp Hill and Wolverhampton. There will be a huge incentive in the 2nd half of the season to reverse those losses but it can only happen if there is a collective will to step up the training and commitment to the cause.
One more league fixture in 2018 is this Saturday's encounter with Telford who are welcomed to EsterChem Park for a 2.15pm kick off.
Please come down and support the team as they head into the festive break. There will be a hot lunch available during the afternoon and the annual Christmas Carol Singing after the game.
Author John McDermott