....which tested the Leek resolve to the last second of the game.
For the first time since the opening Saturday in September, Leek could field its Fijian centre partnership in Naz Narawaka and Kini Bulli. Liam and Gary McDermott were at half back. George Hunt was back and entrusted with the full back position for the first time with Nick Palmer and Matt Leadingham on the wings.
Skipper Bobby Cheadle along with Ed Cheadle and Simon McNicol made up the front row. Phil Tomczak and Ed Harrison were at lock. Jack Conlon was at No.8 with Andy Mcfadden and Luke Staton on the flanks.
Lee Williams, Ollie Drew and Andy Thompson were on the bench.
The game opened as the rain decided to come down harder and with a wind blowing against Leek first half, the start was going to be important. Leek gave away 2 penalties in the first 40 seconds. The first was unlucky from the kick off with a man in front of a knock on. A quick tap by the C&N scrum half had him scampering through Leek’s first line of defence. Stopped on the 22, he was awarded another penalty for not rolling away at the tackle and he was off again for the quick tap. In hindsight, the 3 simple points on offer in the conditions was an obvious choice but keen to catch Leek cold he continued a move down the left where a strong tackle near Leek’s line gave the home side a lineout which was duly cleared.
The early let off for Leek was followed by some good work by the home forwards as they rightly kept the ball tight and rucked quickly and accurately for long periods of the half.
On 28 minutes, the rucks reached the Crewe line after great work by Jack Conlon, Simon McNicol and Ed Harrison, but a knock on spoiled the chance.
Jack Conlon was inspired again as he persistently broke the gain line and took on the mantle of front line carrier.
C&N were trying to find field position by deep kicking to Leek’s 22 and on 32 minutes, it took a great piece of play from young left wing Matt Leadingham to keep Leek’s line safe. He covered across to the left wing after Leek lost the ball in Crewe’s half and the resulting kick had the left corner exposed. Collecting 5 metres from his own line, he then booted the ball clear before engaging and tackling the C&N wing who had caught it on Leek’s 10 metre line. It epitomised the improvement and confidence shown by Leek’s younger players as they compete at this level.
On 39 minutes, Leek stole a ball in the tackle on their own 10 metre line midfield and Kini Bulli made ground before passing to Gary McDermott. The C&N right flank was exposed and McDermott’s line took the wing out as he passed inside to full back George Hunt who sprinted in from outside the C&N 22 for a deserved try.
McDermott’s conversion hit the post and stayed out but a crucial score in the conditions gave Leek a 5-0 lead.
Leek only needed to see out the added on time to take the lead into the break but 6 minutes were played as Leek made 2 infringements near their own line and the Crewe forwards rucked their way near to the Leek line. Leek was offside and C&N opted for the lineout. Leek infringed again, driving illegally in at the side. Opting for a scrum this time, Leek’s defence held the drive and then held up the Crewe forwards over the line. The 5 metre scrum came on 46 minutes and 2 quick rucks later and an overlap on the left had the wing in space and a try for the visitors to level. The conversion missed and the half time whistle blew at 5 all.
The 2nd half was a game of safety as both teams tried to test defences and work a mistake from which to take some points.
Credit to both teams, they both played that game very well and opportunities to score were non-existent until the 70th minute when Leek got up to the C&N 5 metre line rucking, but knocked on. Then on 72 minutes, a break on the left led to a Leek penalty for not releasing in the tackle and McDermott had a 40 metre chance for goal. The rain was coming down but the wind was in favour and his accuracy led to a successful conversion to hand Leek the lead at 8-5.
Could the Moorlanders hold on now or was there another comeback from the visitors?
On 80 minutes a lineout in the Leek half led to a ruck and a penalty for Crewe as Leek dived into it. The C&N captain deliberated with his team and opted to go for goal from around 32 metres on the left. The attempt was pulled and Leek survived.
The game wasn’t over by any means as the frantic efforts by C&N had Leek defending 2 scrums in their own 22 for the remainder of added time after a high kick by the C&N wing was retained with Leek players looking on. Despite the size difference Leek held the scrums and time ran out for the visitors as the ball was booted into touch for the final play.
The awful conditions aside, the pitch played superbly and both teams are to be congratulated for putting on a great game of rugby for the committed spectators of both clubs.
Leek’s coaches will be delighted with the result as the win inches the Moorlanders closer to their nearest rivals in the league, which include Stoke, C&N and next week’s opponents Dudley Kingswinford.
At the top of the table, the lead changed hands again as Hereford beat Worcester and Stratford beat Bourneville meaning Stratford retake 1st place. Only 8 points separate the top 8 clubs with Dudley 10 points off 8th place in 9th with 23 points. Then comes C&N with 21 points, Stoke with 19 points, Leek with 15 points, Silhillians with 8 points and Walsall with 6 points.
Leek enjoys 2 home games in the run up to Christmas after the away game at Dudley next week.
On December 12th, Leek welcomes Hereford to EsterChem Park and then on December 19th, the start of the 2nd half of the season sees Worcester Wanderers coming to Leek.
Both games are a 2.15pm kick off.