....on Saturday as Willenhall lost their 8th home game and confirmed their relegation after 3 years at this level.
This game was never going to be a repeat of the game a few weeks ago at Leek when the Moorlanders scored 8 tries against a depleted Willenhall. This time, Willenhall were almost at full strength and with Leek making 4 changes to the side that won at Dixonians last week, this was going to be a tough challenge.
Sam Hunt started at full back with Lucas Buxton and Nick Palmer on the wings. Simon Drew came into the side at inside centre, partnering George Hunt. Gary McDermott and Jake Green were at half back.
Luke Granger was back at hooker with youngsters Joe Newton-Taylor and Jamie Clarke propping.
Luke Staton was back at lock with Tom Sims and Andy McFadden, Ad Nettle and Neil Edge were in the back row.
On a hard surface with Leek playing uphill with the wind in the first half, the home side started brightly and indeed for the first 20 minutes, the visitors hardly touched the ball as the home pack battered their way up field with the clear intention of winning the game through the forwards.
Only a dropped pass on 6 minutes prevented an opening score by Willenhall and then from the 5 metre lineout with the No8 through, a penalty for impeding a defender stopped a certain score.
On 14 minutes, Leek were under pressure again as a dropped pass near their line meant the pack had to scrum well. This they did and McDermott cleared to over halfway, only for referee, Ian Hunter to bring play back for a Leek offside in front of the kicker on the 5 metre line.
A strong Willenhall scrum saw the No8 control the ball well and touch down for a deserved opening score. The conversion was missed, but 5-0 only reflected the possession and territory Willenhall had enjoyed.
From the kick off though, the other side of Willenhall's play was seen as a poor clearance kick on their 22 was charged down by Gary McDermott. He gathered in the 22 and passed to Simon Drew who sprinted over for an equalising score and with McDermott's conversion successful, Leek took an unlikely 7-5 lead.
Leek defended another 5 metre scrum on 27 minutes before they enjoyed their first piece of sustained pressure in the Willenhall 22 with good hands and rucking looking like they would give them a break, but a dropped pass allowed Willenhall to clear. However, from the lineout and subsequent ruck, Willenhall were penalised for offside and McDermott stepped up to land a great penalty which extended Leek's lead to 10-5.
The rest of the half was played out with Willenhall on the attack through the forwards but without much direction to their play.
Half time Willenhall 5 - 10 Leek
Leek were kicking downhill 2nd half and on 45 minutes McDermott had a long range penalty attempt for an offside at the scrum. The ball just dived under the bar but the Willenhall fullback knocked on and Leek had a scrum on the Willenhall 5 metre line.
Leek were nudged off their scrum though, but in the ensuing maul, Leek pinched the ball back and Jake Green's quick thinking saw his blind side pass to McDermott outflank the right wing for the fly half to score a try in the left corner. His own conversion went wide but Leek were up to 15-5 on 48 minutes.
On 59 minutes, further sustained Willenhall pressure in the Leek 22 was wasted as the ball was hoofed into the in goal hoping for a catch by a Willenhall back when further forward pressure may have resulted in some points.
Shane Dicker came on for the excellent Simon Drew on 60 minutes and Tom Bourne replaced Jamie Clarke in the front row on 67 minutes.
Play became fractured and disjointed as Willenhall tried desperately to break the Leek defence as the visitors remained calm and tackled bravely. On 74 minutes a penalty against Leek for offside was reversed by the referee after indiscipline by a Willenhall forward and on 76 minutes Elliott Fowler came on for Lucas Buxton.
With time running out, Willenhall's forwards threw everything at Leek's defence and only a fantastic tackle by Sam Hunt on 80 minutes saw the Willenhall hooker dumped into touch near the Leek line when a score looked inevitable. Leek's lineout was deemed not straight and from the scrum, predictably the Willenhall No8 scored a pushover try again. The conversion was missed and the full time whistle blew.
Leek had withstood near 80 minutes of solid pressure from a physically big side and had defended superbly taking their few chances effectively whilst keeping their shape under a sustained barrage of attacks from the home side. The game wasn't pretty but Leek ground out their 12th win of the season and now cannot be caught for 6th place with 1 game to play.
Infact, Leek could finish in 4th, 5th or 6th place depending on results next week.
Here is the scenario.
Leek are 4 points behind both Stafford and Bridgnorth, following the former's superb bonus point win against the latter this Saturday. Leek are on 54 points and the other 2 are on 58 points.
Leek has to beat Tamworth on Saturday and get a winning bonus point to move to 59 points, whilst at the same time, Stoke has to defeat Stafford without Stafford gaining a losing bonus point. Stourbridge has to beat Bridgnorth, but it would be OK if Bridgnorth won a losing bonus point. Positions are decided on number of wins first, then points difference. With it?
So there is plenty to play for in the last game of the league season and Leek's promoted rivals Tamworth will be looking to end on a high as well, following their loss at Ludlow on Saturday.
Kick off for the game next Saturday is at 3pm.
At 2.30pm, there will be a presentation on the field for the charity CRY when Chris Parr's parents, Martin and Diane will receive a cheque on behalf of CRY from Leek Rugby Club following their recent fundraising efforts.
Please come and join in this end of season celebration and support your club.