It was a special day and thanks must go to the whole of the Aspatria members, friends, players and officials who so contributed to the occasion and once again confirmed local amateur rugby is alive, kicking, competitive, sporting and friendly. Leek commends your respect and sportsmanship both on and off the field. Good luck next season.
Thanks also to the army of Leek volunteers who all worked tirelessly to make the day run smoothly and to the members, friends and townsfolk of Leek and other North Staffs rugby club members who all supported the club on what was its most important fixture in the history of the club and around 800 people witnessed it.
Leek had to grapple with some serious team selection in the week as they came off the back of defeat at Old Salts and the back row of Ad Nettel, Luke Staton and Andy McFadden was restored en masse to aid the front five where Tom Hine and Tom Sims started at lock and Jason Milner, Luke Granger and Bobby Cheadle made up the front row.
Ian Harris was fit to take his place at scrum half with skipper Gary McDermott at fly half. Liam McDermott and Nick Palmer were in the centre and the back 3 comprised Jack Newton Taylor, James Floyd and Sam Hunt.
The 7 man bench consisted of Dan Needham, Jake Green, Luke Hardern, James Wilson, Dan Cooper, Naz Narawa and Shane Dicker.
The Aspatria team bus encountered a few problems making the journey from Crewe where they had stayed overnight, but the Blackreds shrugged that off after McDermott had given Leek an early 3rd minute lead after a penalty gave them a lineout in the Aspatria 22. Another penalty followed for slowing the ball and Leek had an early 3-0 advantage.
With Aspatria comfortable on the ball and forcing the game, a lineout on Leek's 22 went awry for the home side and a ruck set up in midfield and quick ball saw the Aspatria centre crash through a flailing tackle and score a good try. The conversion missed but the intent and confidence of the Cumbrians was there for all to see. 3-5.
The visitors increased their lead on 18 minutes as they continued to dominate the midfield and won a penalty for in at the side of a ruck. The successful kick gave Aspatria a 3-8 lead.
From the kick off, Leek won a penalty for offside and McDermott reduced the deficit with another good kick. 6-8.
Both sides now had settled into the game and there was good continuity and defence until Leek made a mistake on 30 minutes running the ball out of their own 22. Nick Palmer was caught in possession with a crunching tackle, the ball was spilled and simple hands allowed the Aspatria captain to sprint in under the posts. With the conversion successful, the visitors had opened up a formidable lead at 6-15 and it looked like they were starting to dominate the game.
Enter Luke Hardern. The big lock made an immediate impact as he thundered through on the kick off and Leek had found Aspatria may be with the foot off the gas as the half wound down. McDermott added another 3 points on 36 minutes as the visitors pack was penalised for dragging the maul down. 9-15. Then on 40 minutes with Leek's forwards creating some continuity in the Aspatria 22, a yellow card was shown for in at the side and was the culmination of indiscipline. This gave the Moorlanders the signal to take advantage and superb rucking and handling finally gave Luke Hardern the chance to crash over the line for Leek's first try of the day. An accurate conversion followed as did the half time whistle and Leek had managed to reach the half with an unlikely 16-15 lead.
Dan Needham came on at scrum half and Shane Dicker was already on for injured Liam McDermott as was Naz Narawa and the next scoring chance was going to be important. It went to Leek a minute into the half, under the posts, but McDermott missed and did so again 5 minutes later as Leek won penalties for slowing ball down.
Aspatria had a 54th minute penalty on half way and elected to kick for goal, but the attempt went wide. 4 minutes later and a scrum offence gave McDermott another chance and he duly opened the 2nd half scoring to increase the Leek lead to 19-15.
More indiscipline followed on 60 minutes for the visitors, this time for a late tackle and it gave the chance for McDermott to kick for a lineout in the Aspatria 22. Great pressure and retention by the forwards and 3 rucks later gave Shane Dicker the chance to charge his way over the line to score a team try. The conversion missed but at 24-15, the visitors needed to up their game now to get back in contention. However, it was still Leek pressing and on 71 minutes, Jack Newton Taylor was on the burst down the left wing when he was adjudged to have been high tackled and his opposite man received a straight red. This seemed to knock all remaining steam out of Aspatria and McDermott added a 75th minute penalty success from under the posts for handling in the ruck.
At 27-15, both sides now knew the outcome wasn't going to change and at the final whistle, the home support voiced its approval in what had been a titanic struggle between two well matched sides with the score line not reflecting how close this match had been for most of the 80 minutes.
In the end though, it is Leek that has the honour and privilege of representing the North and Midlands, let alone Staffordshire and the town at Twickenham in the national final on Sunday May 4th.
The opposition is going to be Trowbridge from the South West division who took the London and South East's, Guildford's season long unbeaten home record to secure their place with a 17-19 win at the home of the London 2 South West champions.
This week, Leek completes its league season with a trip to Camp Hill. Camp Hill secured its place in the Midlands 2 West league for next season with some good late season performances. Kick off is 3pm in Birmingham.
The organisation for the Twickenham event is already taking shape and several coaches have been booked to take supporters to Twickenham on the day and return after.
Coach tickets, at £20 each, can be bought at the rugby club between 7pm and 9pm this week and at the market street shop of N E Upholstery where Neil Edge can give more information. Further updates on this will be found on the club's website.
Entrance to Twickenham on the day is only £5 for adults and £2 for children with unallocated seating in the West stand.
The ticket office is located in the south stand by the rugby statue and you may have to go there first before entrance to the ground is permitted. Further update on this will come when we know the official arrangements on Wednesday.
YOU CAN BUY ENTRANCE TICKETS ON THE DAY AT THE GROUND.
Car parking at the ground is also £5 on the day, if you are driving.
If you are organising yourselves separately, please advise any of the 3 people below in case help is needed with transport.
There are 2 other games on the day.
The Junior Vase and Senior Vase national finals will commence at 11am and 1pm respectively before the main event at 3pm when the Moorlanders take on Trowbridge for the Intermediate Cup.
If anyone needs any further information, please call John McDermott on 07973 424225, Neil Edge on 07855 394669 or Mark Hardern on 07870 559213