After a tough opening half to the season, players' bodies are in need of a rest but the success in the cup means it's a game every week at the moment. Leek's injury and unavailability lists are growing, so it enables opportunities for other players to impress the coaches.
Dan Smith started at full back with Jack Newton Taylor and James Floyd on the wings as Nick Palmer had a week off for an injured shoulder.
Ian Harris was unavailable, so Liam McDermott partnered brother Gary McDermott at half back for the 2nd successive game.
Bobby Cheadle, Jack Conlon and Jason Milner continue in the front row with Ed Harrison and Luke Hardern at lock. Ad Nettel was rested and Andy McFadden moved to No8 which meant starts for Tom Sims and veteran Neil Edge on the flanks.
Ollie Drew, Andy Thompson and Charlie Futcher were on the bench.
As last week, there was a stiff breeze down the pitch and this time after winning the toss, Gary McDermott elected to play against the elements. The pitch started well but it was going to get very sticky by the end of the game.
Leek journeyed over to the East Midlands by coach with a sizeable contingent of supporters travelling with them. The faithful were rewarded on 2 minutes after a Loughborough lineout just outside their own 22 was cleanly won and quick ball to the scrum half saw him running laterally. Josh Mays Woodhead had anticipated the move and was rewarded for his efforts as he took an interception pass and sprinted in for the opening try. Gary McDermott's conversion missed but Leek had started well at 5-0.
The next 15 minutes saw Leek playing some fast attacking rugby as the ruck clear outs were accurate and backs and forwards worked well. On 16 minutes Leek won a penalty as Loughborough's forwards pulled down the maul and Gary McDermott increased Leek's lead to 8-0 with a successful kick.
Then Loughborough got into the game and won a penalty for non release after the tackle. They kicked for the lineout on Leek's 5 metre line on the right hand side of the pitch. A clean catch and drive brought just reward with a try. The conversion missed but at 8-5, the match looked set up for a tight encounter.
On 24 minutes another Loughborough penalty for holding on had a lucky ending for Leek as the kick for the lineout failed to find touch and then a minute later, after a scrum blindside break, only a fine tackle from Dan Smith prevented a score in the right corner.
6 minutes later and Loughborough's forwards were in the 22 and winning another penalty. A quick tap had the Leek defence battling bravely on their own 5 metre line and after a turnover, Dan Smith cleared the lines. Loughborough were on top and on 34 minutes Leek's defence again held well before clearing. Then a minute later, the Loughborough backs dropped the ball in centre field and Josh Mays Woodhead kicked ahead. He was obstructed in the act and the ensuing penalty was in Loughborough's 22. Gary McDermott made no mistake and Leek had inched to an 11-5 lead against the run of play. It galvanised Leek and Luke Hardern won a Loughborough lineout on the home 22 on 39 minutes. Quick ball to Gary McDermott allowed the skipper to dance his way past the inside backs and score a fine try under the posts. He converted as the half time whistle blew and Leek had extended their lead to 18-5.
At the half, Andy Thompson and Charlie Futcher came on, but Futcher only lasted 4 minutes having sustained a calf injury
Loughborough were pressing again and on 50 minutes with Leek trying to pass their way out of their own 22, a ball was knocked on. Another blindside break caught Leek knapping and a couple of rucks later the Loughborough lock crashed over to score a try. The conversion missed but the game was still on at 18-10.
Probably the next score was crucial to the outcome of the game and it entered a phase of hard physical rugby with both sets of forwards testing each other. Good tackling and counter attacking led to stalemate in the Leek half until on 64 minutes Leek lifted the siege to win a scrum on Loughborough's 22. A minute later and Leek won a penalty which was kicked to the Loughborough 5 metre line for a lineout. A good catch and drive allowed Andy McFadden to score Leek's 3rd try. McDermott's excellent conversion meant Loughborough needed to score 3 times in the remaining 15 minutes. 25-10.
On 72 minutes, Leek's forwards had a driving maul into the Loughborough 22. After the ball went wide, Ed Harrison took an inside ball to near the mine. He set up the ruck and Liam McDermott burrowed his way over for the try that sealed the game. Another good conversion followed by brother Gary and there as no way back now for the home team at 32-10. It was compounded by a yellow card for the Loughborough centre on 75 minutes for obstruction. Jack Newton Taylor made 2 long breaks into the Loughborough 22 but the defence held with Leek pressing in the last few minutes.
It had been a tough fair game with both sides deserving credit for their efforts. Leek prevailed because they were more clinical at crucial times and they move into uncharted territory in RFU Cups.
It must go on record that Loughborough's hospitality before and after the game was highly appreciated and so was Ashbourne RUFC's after the Leek coach stopped in the town for some Christmas cheer.
In the 3 other Midland quarter finals, Bridgnorth won comfortably against Dunstablians. Crewe and Nantwich lost closely at home to Newbold on Avon and the Midlands leagues only undefeated side, Leighton Buzzard won at Wolverhampton.
This sets up the two West 2 (N) sides and the two East 2 (S) sides in the semi finals.
Author John McDermott