Midlands West 3 (N)
Leek maintained their unbeaten and winning run to 13 league games with a hard fought win at Telford on Saturday. It was their 6th shut out and 6th away win in a row and meant their top of the table position was consolidated after completing their 17th game in the 22 match series.
With Gary McDermott and Sam Hunt still out with injury and Dave Ackerley unavailable, there were more changes for the team. Ian Harris started at fly half with Dave Kennaway moving to inside centre and James Wilson maintaining his outside centre position. Andy Green returned to the left wing and Lucas Buxton continued on the right wing. Youngster, Elliott Fowler, kept his full back spot after another impressive display under the high ball last week.
With Dave Ackerley out, Jamie Gordon started at loose head prop with Charlie Futcher and Jason Milner making up the front row. The dependable 2nd row partnership of James Newby and Andy McFadden was in operation along with the unchanged back row of Luke Granger, Rhodri Hughes and skipper Adam Nettel.
Luke Staton was joined on the bench by two 18 year olds in Luke Hardern and James Floyd.
Without a recognised kicker in the team, it was perhaps unfortunate that after only 19 seconds of the game, Leek's first missed penalty from a kick off offence, was a prelude to a stuttering performance. Another penalty on 7 minutes and a change of kicker did little to inspire the team, who despite all their possession and territory could not break a resolute Telford defence and with the penalty miss, Telford's confidence grew, albeit in defending their line. The next 10 minutes produced another 3 penalties for Leek in the Telford half and Leek chose to go for the lineouts each time, but poor execution there, meant Leek still couldn't register a point. Then on 26 minutes a nice move saw the backs receive tidy ball and with an overlap the ball was dotted down for a try by Andy Green, but the referee had already blown his whistle for an infringement as the move began and then James Newby had to be replaced by Luke Staton as a blood injury meant he needed treatment.
Still Leek pressed inside the Telford 22, but the cutting edge was missing and several players received niggling injuries as Telford kept their strong defensive line intact. Leek's physio couldn't travel, so the game began to get a little ragged as players nursed themselves back into the match.
Finally on 31 minutes, Rhodri Hughes picked up at the back of a scrum 5 metres from the Telford line and a couple of quick rucks later, Ian Harris sprinted through the depleted defence and scored the opening try. Lucas Buxton kicked the conversion and Leek led 7-0.
On 36 minutes, Telford were pressing for the first time in the match really and won a penalty for holding on in the tackle. The attempt went wide, but Telford's confidence was growing all the time and as the game entered first half stoppage time, Telford had a series of 5 metre scrums and pick up and drives for the Leek line. Leek's defence was solid and frustrated the home forwards until an offside by Telford meant Leek cleared their lines. However, Leek were penalised again as they released binding from the scrum and the 40 metre attempt fell short as half time came.
Telford 0 - 7 Leek
The 2nd half opened with Leek losing a scrum against the head, but Telford's main problem of knocking on prevented them from any continuity. On 46 minutes, James Floyd came on at outside centre and James Wilson moved to the wing as Lucas Buxton came off.
3 minutes later and another penalty for Telford for deliberate knock on again saw the fly half miss poorly. Leek eventually ground their way out of their own half and a neat backs move saw play move into the Telford half.
On 58 minutes, Leek won a lineout on the Telford 22 and Ian Harris made a fantastic break and was stopped just short of the line. A quick ruck saw the ball moved wide and Charlie Futcher burst for the line and was held up, but Elliott Fowler from fullback had supported superbly and he took the ball off Futcher and dived over for a well deserved try. The conversion by Floyd was missed but leek had moved to a 12-0 lead and looked finally to be breaking the Telford resistance.
On 68 minutes, Luke Staton came on for the injured Dave Kennaway and that meant Luke Granger had to move to the centre. A few minutes later and Luke Hardern came on in the 2nd row for Andy McFadden as Telford started to press again. On 76 minutes Telford were under the Leek posts and won a penalty for offside. In their haste, they took a quick tap penalty and ran blind, but Rhodri Hughes took an interception and Needham cleared.
On 81 minutes, Leek broke out of their half and the backs moved the ball nicely, eventually leading to a chip through by Elliott Fowler. Telford cleared for a lineout on their 22.
Leek lost the lineout, but the Telford scrum half chipped over the onrushing Leek defence only for the ball to be snapped up by the covering Charlie Futcher. He charged past one back and linked superbly with Fowler who had made a beautifully timed run to take the pass and drive towards the Telford 22. Luke Granger linked and finally Luke Hardern drove for the line and was grounded right on the line, but referee Daniels then awarded Telford a penalty for a Leek player going over the top and Telford cleared.
From the resulting lineout on 82 minutes, James Newby was yellow carded for a pulling down his opposite man and Telford besieged the Leek 22 in search of a consolation score. Leek were living dangerously giving penalties away as Telford rushed to score. Eventually, an overlap on the left wing saw the winger beat 3 men and go over the line, but in his dive to score a great tackle by Ian Harris knocked the ball out of the hands and Leek preserved their line.
Finally on 88 minutes Andy Green broke clear and sprinted from his own half to within 5 metres of the Telford line before being tackled. The ball was forced into touch and the final whistle blew.
Leek knew they had been in a tough battle and had weathered several storms before clinching the win. The highlights of the game were the man of the match performance by Elliott Fowler at full back and the play of the other 2 youngsters Luke Hardern and James Floyd who all showed they are capable at this level. Luke Granger was immense in his work rate and tackling and in general Leek's superb organisation in defence was the defining factor in the win.
Telford, with a new coach and a good win last week against Wednesbury should start to win a few games now and Leek must travel to Wednesbury next Saturday and hope to put in a better performance.
Veseyans had a comfortable home win against Handsworth to maintain their 2nd position, 3 points behind Leek with 1 game in hand. 3rd placed Tamworth and 4th placed Burntwood were involved in the semi finals of the Midland Regional Senior Vase. Unfortunately, they both bowed out, but in getting this far, showed the strength of this league at this level in the Midlands.
Tamworth are now 7 points behind Leek with 3 games in hand and will be coming to F Ball Park on Saturday, March 20th, for a crucial league game.
As Leek plays Wednesbury next week, Veseyans host Telford and Tamworth travel to Bishops Castle who have quietly moved into 5th place with a good away win at Bloxwich on Saturday.
Leek 2nds 10 v 13 Stoke 2nds
Stoke 3rds 10 v 51 Leek 3rds
Author John McDermott