a penalty try and a conversion. In the end, the 2 point margin flattered Leek and they will be pleased to come away with a bonus point having been unable to produce any ball on the front foot all afternoon.
Leek's 2 young props, Jamie Clarke and Joe Newton-Taylor were both sidelined with injuries, so Jamie Gordon came into the side at loose head with Luke Granger and Dave Ackerley making up the front row. With Luke Hardern almost recovered and on the bench, the versatile Andy McFadden partnered James Newby at lock. Matt Slinn and Luke Staton were on the flank with skipper Ad Nettel at No.8.
The halfbacks were constant with Dave Kennaway and Gary McDermott, but with Shane Dicker injured, Lee Williams came into the inside centre position with George Hunt at 13. Jake Green and Ad Smith were on the wings and Elliott Fowler was at fullback.
With Luke Hardern on the bench were Lucas Buxton and Andy Green.
The game started with Leek pinned in their own 22 and from a scrappy scrum, McDermott's clearance kick landed in play and bounced kindly for Fowler, Green and Staton to interpass into the Stafford 22 where an unfortunate knock on stopped a promising move. Leek kept Stafford pinned in the 22 and won the ball again from which Stafford were penalised for offside and McDermott's simple kick handed Leek an early 3-0 lead.
For the next 15 minutes, the game was played in midfield mostly with both sides making errors and very little continuity until on 20 minutes Leek conceded a penalty coming in at the side of a maul and Stafford kicked for the corner. Leek were penalised again for bringing the ensuing maul from the lineout down. Stafford opted to scrum and the No8 controlled the ball as Leek's pack were shunted over their line for an easy Stafford try. The conversion missed but Stafford took the lead at 5-3.
Leek's scrum couldn't win clean ball and this hampered Leeks' usual style of continuity and it took until the 39th minute for the backs to make a dangerous break into the Stafford 22, where the home side was penalised for handling in the ruck. McDermott's well struck penalty hit the left upright and flew dead in goal. A minute later from the 22 drop out, Leek had another penalty as Stafford were penalised for diving into the ruck and this time McDermott hit the right upright. The ball bounced into play and Luke Granger pounced on the ball. Leek set up a quick ruck and looked to have an overlap on the left side, but a knock on stopped the move with the line begging and the half time whistle went with Stafford leading 5-3.
The 2nd half started with Stafford indiscipline and the referee finally lost patience with a stream of ruck offences by yellow carding the Stafford centre for slowing the ball in the ruck on 46 minutes.
McDermott converted and Leek regained the lead at 6-5.
Coach Ian Gittens brought Luke Hardern into the game on 56 minutes to try and restore some parity in the scrum, but Leek put themselves under pressure again and on 56 minutes were forced to defend another 5metre scrum. Leek just managed to hold on, but the pressure was building and on 63 minutes Stafford's ball retention finally told when their backs extended Leek's defence to the right and back across for the centre to score a good try in the right corner. The conversion was missed but Stafford regained the lead at 10-6.
7 minutes later and from a harmless kick into Leek's 22, the usually calm Fowler sliced his kick somewhat and Stafford's centre retrieved the ball between Leek's 22 and 10 metre line. Good support saw Leek's defence outflanked and another try was scored in the right corner. The conversion was missed again, but at 15-6, Stafford were looking for a bonus point win and Leek needed some luck.
More changes came for Leek before the restart on 74 minutes as Jake Green moved to scrumhalf allowing Lucas Buxton to come onto the right wing. This had an immediate impact as Leek won the ball from the kick off and broke quickly into the Stafford 22. Stafford were penalised for offside and Green attempted a quick tap penalty. He was hauled back after a couple of metres and the referee awarded a penalty try as Green looked like scoring. McDermott converted and at 15-13 with 5 minutes to go, it was game on.
Stafford though were determined and Leek didn't get another chance to get within range and it was all the defence could do to stop a further Stafford try as the home side strung some good phases together as the game entered stoppage time.
In the end, it was a fair result and the win saw Stafford move up to 4th place and Leek retained 6th.
Breeze House Man of the Match was James Newby.
In other results, Ludlow edged Stoke to retain top spot, but they will have to be vigilant as Old Salts disposed of Bridgnorth to go level on points with the league leaders, although Ludlow has 2 games in hand.
Shrewsbury thrashed Aston Old Eds which has seen them win only once since Christmas and Dixonians win against Tamworth was the most significant result in the relegation battle as they extended their points gap over Willenhall who were beaten comfortable by Stourbridge. Stourbridge leapfrogged Willenhall at the bottom and it meant mathematically Leek cannot be relegated. This was the target this year for the Moorlanders and they've achieved that with 5 games to go. It is a great effort by the whole senior club and congratulations go to everyone involved.
Leek has 2 consecutive home fixtures now, starting with Willenhall on Saturday, March 19th, kick off 3pm.
This Saturday sees the 6 Nations comes to its climax with all 6 teams in action throughout the afternoon and evening and the club will be open from 1pm with live coverage of all 3 games.
Plenty of food will be on offer, so come and join the terrific atmosphere in the clubhouse.
Scotland faces Italy, fresh from defeating France yesterday, at 2.30pm.
Ireland faces England at 5pm. If England wins today, it's a grand slam game in Dublin for England.
Then, at 7.45pm, France tries to regain some pride when they host Wales.
On Saturday, March 26th, Leek hosts Stourbridge Lions at F Ball Park. Kick off 3pm.