Given there was a single point between the sides in 65 points earlier in the season, there was no surprise that this game would be settled on small margins.
In the end, 2 kicks hitting bar and post by Leek and one hitting post by Walsall could be considered the difference and whilst last season most games like this went Leek’s way, this season it is the opposite, so lady luck is the element missing as the season winds up to its climax.
Leek welcomed back Luke Granger to the front row supported by props John Brooks and Bobby Cheadle. Tom Sims and Ed Harrison were united at lock. Luke Hardern was back at No.8 as Luke Staton and Simon Drew supported on the flanks.
Ollie Drew had a start at half back with skipper Gary McDermott. Liam McDermott and Nick Palmer were in the centre with James Floyd, Jack Newton Taylor and Sam Hunt making up the back 3. Ed Cheadle, Jason Milner and Dan Needham were on the bench.
The opening 2 minutes saw Leek pressing 10 metres from the Walsall line but a holding on offence allowed Walsall to clear and then on 5 minutes a turnover on Leek’s 10 metre line saw the Walsall backs streaking to the try line. A great tackle brought the attack to a halt 10 metres from the line and then the referee awarded Walsall a penalty for Jack Taylor kicking the ball away from the side of the ruck. Unfortunately he then yellow carded Ollie Drew as the culprit and Liam McDermott came into scrum half.
The Walsall centre took advantage and kicked the simple enough penalty. 0-3.
Back came Leek on 7 minutes and won a penalty on the Walsall 22 for not rolling away at the ruck. A quick tap and another penalty for in at side and advantage led to a 3rd infringement near the Walsall line. The referee warned the Walsall skipper but there seemed to be no consistency in that decision following Leek’s earlier yellow. McDermott converted the penalty to draw the teams level at 3 all.
From the kick off, Leek knocked on and advantage was played as the Walsall forwards took play into the Leek 22. Frantic defence and then 2 missed tackles gave extra momentum to Walsall and they worked a nice overlap for the centre to score the opening try. The conversion hit the post and stayed out. 3-8.
On 14 minutes Leek won a penalty on Walsall’s 10 metre line for offside. McDermott’s long range attempt was well struck but it crashed against the centre of the bar and back into play where Jack Taylor secured ball after a Walsall knock on. Ollie Drew came back on but Leek couldn’t convert the possession into points.
4 minutes later and Nick Palmer kicked ahead after the Walsall backs fumbled and then won a penalty which was directed to a lineout on Walsall’s 22. The ball was won cleanly and after a quick ruck Palmer came in on the charge to set up another ruck in centre field inside the Walsall 22. Another ruck later and Luke Granger was sprinting blind and as he went outside the left wing his inside pass to Gary McDermott saw the skipper crash over for a deserved try. His subsequent conversion hit the post and stayed out. 8 all.
On 26 minutes Leek deservedly took the lead with the try of the game. Winning a turnover on their own 10 metre line with Luke Staton securing the ball, Leek ran right with Jack Taylor on the burst and then with James Floyd coming back on the angle to create another ruck, the Walsall defence was stretched. Quick ball to skipper McDermott had the Leek out half sidestepping his opposite man and then cutting inside the full back for a try near the posts. His own conversion was good and Leek took the lead for the first time in the match. 15-8.
Leek had the chance to press home their advantage and perhaps the turning point of the game came 3 minutes later when a Leek clearance kick bounced in Leek’s half and Jack Taylor gathered in. He stepped out of one tackle and it then looked like the field had opened up for the youngster to score one of his trademark long distance tries with a burst of speed. As he closed in on the Walsall line however, it was apparent Taylor was not at full speed and a fantastic try saving tackle brought him down 5 metres shy of the line and to make matters worse was penalised for holding on and suffered a head injury that saw him go off the field. This seemed to lift Walsall and they were given another bonus when inexplicably Tom Sims was yellow carded for placing an arm on the Walsall catcher in the lineout on half way. It seemed very harsh and led to Walsall’s equalising score on 40 minutes. The penalty went for a lineout on Leek’s 22 and although Leek stole the ball, it was turned over. Time then for Walsall’s big front 5 carriers to sap the Leek defence close to the line and eventually the Walsall prop crashed over for a try. The conversion was good and the 1st half ended with the teams locked at 15 all.
The 2nd half was set to be a less inspiring affair perhaps because neither side wanted to lose rather than go and win and it took a slice of misfortune for the next score to really hurt Leek. With Sam Hunt lying prone on the pitch near half way, Leek was pressing in the Walsall half when Simon Drew led a charge into Walsall’s forwards. The ball went forward and the alert fly half spotting no full back at home launched a kick into the Leek 22. The full back followed up, the ball bounced kindly and he went over for Walsall’s 3rd try despite James Floyd’s valiant attempt. The conversion was good and at 15-22, Leek’s fortunes had taken a turn for the worse and it would need inspiration to get back on terms.
It came on 64 minutes when Leek won a penalty for holding on. McDermott kicked for the lineout on Walsall’s 22. A catch and drive showing great control saw Tom Sims crash over for Leek’s 3rd try in the left corner. McDermott’s conversion agonisingly shaved the outside of the post and left the Moorlanders trailing 20-22 but with enough time yet to swing the match.
On 73 minutes Walsall had a penalty attempt to seal the game but the kick missed and then from a scrum on their own 22 on 74 minutes, Leek ran the ball right getting James Floyd in space to half way. His pass inside to Sam Hunt was dropped and a promising move with one player to beat ended in frustration.
As the game entered added time, Walsall had 2 players yellow carded for separate deliberate knock on offences as Leek attempted to run the ball at every opportunity. The last card allowed McDermott to kick for the lineout on Walsall’s 22 and a last play chance.
However, as if to cap the game off in frustration, the line was deemed not straight and Walsall’s scrum held for the kick to touch to end an absorbing game.
Despite the loss and on a positive note, Leek won yet another bonus point, the 11th of the campaign and the 6th losing bonus point (5 try scoring bonus points as well), the most of any side in the league. The result keeps them in 10th spot, 2 points behind Stratford and 5 points behind this Saturday’s opponents, Whitchurch. Kick off 2.15pm.
The EsterChem Park fixture in October produced a narrow home win, so Whitchurch will be looking for revenge as Leek seek to arrest their run of defeats.
In the day’s only other game Hereford beat Silhillians and without any points, it meant Leek effectively stopped another point to safety.
It also look like Berkswell and Balsall has been deducted 5 points because according to the RFU league table they have 21 points instead of the 26 points previously reported. With Leek on 35 points there are still 9 games to play and everything to play for.
Leek’s next home match is on Saturday, February 7th, when the visitors are Barkers Butts.
Ahead of that game on Friday, February 6th, the 6 Nations Championship gets underway in Cardiff where England provide the opposition for Wales in what should be a fantastic atmosphere. The game is live on the big screen at the Rugby Club. Kick-off is at 8pm and the club will be open from 7pm. Please come and support your team and club.