In the end, Tamworth’s 2nd half performance eclipsed anything Leek could provide and the team which finished 5th in the league deserved their win at EsterChem Park against a Leek side which eventually finished 3rd.
The Leek squad saw Ollie Drew take over at full back with Will Graham and Matt Leadingham on the wings. Sam Hunt and Nick Palmer were in the centres after regular centre George Hunt was injured during training in the week.
Gary McDermott and Dan Needham wee at half back. Lee Williams, Ed Cheadle and skipper Bobby Cheadle were in the front row with Luke Hardern and Ben Barlow at lock. Luke Staton, Joel Booth and Simon Drew were in the back row. Adam Smith, Phil Tomczak and Dean Copperwheat were on the bench.
Leek started brightly after Tamworth fumbled the kick-off receipt on a glorious afternoon for rugby. Tackled into touch and then winning a penalty at the 5 metre lineout, a catch and drive from the resulting lineout led Ben Barlow to score a simple enough try with less than 2 minutes on the clock. Gary McDermott converted and Leek led 7-0.
Tamworth gathered themselves and came close a couple of times in the middle of the half but good defence and wrong options kept the visitors at bay. For their part, Leek managed to misfire again at the lineout when challenged and only when injury time came did Leek exert the type of pressure to score again but mistakes and a final knock on with the line beckoning meant the score remained 7-0 as the half time whistle blew.
What happened in the opening 5 minutes of the 2nd half are best forgotten by the Leek players as Tamworth scored twice. On 42 minutes, Leek had a knock on advantage and swung the ball from left to right band with a promising move going over half way a good pass would lead to a dangerous position. Unfortunately, that final pass was intercepted and the Tamworth right wing sprinted in for an unopposed try. The conversion was good and it was all level at 7 all.
As if that wasn’t a big enough setback, 3 minutes later and Tamworth had another score. A lineout on halfway on the right was quickly taken as Leek’s forwards looked on. Quick ball allowed the fly half to run round the pass, sprint through the hole and through a challenge to score a great individual try. He couldn’t convert but at 7-12, Leek needed to up their game to overcome a determined opposition with their tails up now.
On 48 minutes, it looked like a piece of luck was coming Leek’s way when a high tackle on Matt Leadingham produced a harsh straight red card for the flanker.
Leek had the chance then on 58 minutes with penalties getting them inside the Tamworth 22. However despite collapsing the maul 5 metres out, Leek couldn’t breach the Tamworth line and their forwards won a turnover to clear. Finally a warning did come Tamworth’s way but a 63rd minute maul getting to the Tamworth line ended in a knock on and the frustrating afternoon continued.
A couple of minutes later and the Tamworth wing intercepted again and nearly went the length of the field but knocked on after kicking ahead. On 69 minutes, Leek couldn’t clear from the scrum and as the play ended in touch, a fracas ensued culminating in Joel Booth receiving a yellow card. Tamworth converted the subsequent penalty to increase their lead to 7-15.
On 73 minutes, Matt Leadingham received a harsh straight red card for a high tackle. As Leek tried to speed the game an unfortunate knock on and then offside allowed the Tamworth 10 to increase the lead further with a penalty on 75 minutes. 7-18.
The final score came on 81 minutes when a fine move from the back of the scrum saw the scrum half take a pass from the No.8 pick up, thread a grubber kick through to near the Leek line and win the chase for the line. The conversion missed but Leek had conceded their 3rd try and Tamworth deserved their 7-23 win.
It was a tough afternoon for the Leek supporters who had seen their team well beaten in the 2nd half and it was fortunate that in the grand scheme of things, this result did not matter as Stourbridge Lions won convincingly at Newcastle to secure the title and Camp Hill did just enough to overcome a strong Walsall challenge to grab 2nd place and a play-off place against Silhillians. Good luck to them this weekend.
Overall, the season has been a great success for Leek’s 1st XV squad. Neil Edge, Leek Pickles and Chis Mudd had this season down as a rebuilding season in the wake of relegation and if you had asked them if 3rd place was a good place at the beginning of the season, they would have taken it. On the plus side, Leek’s exciting young wingers, Matt Leadingham, Will Graham and Elliot Anderson have come on vey well as has other winger Tom Scragg. Joel Booth’s presence in the forwards has been immense and Lee Williams has blossomed into a strong prop.
Ollie Drew has had good exposure at scrum half and full back and we all wish Luke Hardern the best for his trip to South Africa with the British Police in May. Skipper Bobby Cheadle completed two admirable seasons as captain and it remains to be seen what happens for the new season in terms of captain and vice-captain.
For those of you there on Saturday, you will have noticed Eric Birch celebrating with his family and rugby fiends.
It was the 50th anniversary of Eric being captain of Leek 1st XV. What an achievement and he’s still going strong supporting the team on most away visits and rarely missing a home match. It is this kind of loyalty that makes our club strong and shows the path through the generations to good governance and continued success on and off the field. Well done Eric.
For those interested in county rugby, the championship kicks off on May 6th when Staffordshire plays away at Lutterwoth against Leicestershire. KO 3pm, then at home v Durham on May 13th at Lichfield, KO 3pm before finishing against Cumbria at Longton on May 20th, KO 2pm.