....but at least the Moorlanders put behind them the extremely poor performance of the game at EsterChem Park earlier in the season.
EsterChem Park earlier in the season.
Leek had lost their 2 scrum halves, Kini Buli and Ollie Drew, skipper Luke Hardern, centre Nick Palmer and wing Matt Leadingham but welcomed back Joel Booth at No.8 for this clash with 2nd placed C&N.
Bobby Cheadle, Ed Cheadle and Lee Williams were in the front row. Ben Barlow and Andy Thompson were at lock and a vastly experienced back row was formed with Luke Granger, Joel Booth and Luke Staton.
Liam McDermott was forced into action at scrum half despite not being match fit and joined Sam Hunt at half back. Gary McDermott was joined by George Hunt in the centre and Tom Scragg and Harry Saunders were on the wings with Will Graham at full back.
Adam Smith, Jake Bainbridge and Jack Conlon were on the bench.
Leek were defending the down pitch wind 1st half although it wasn’t that significant but the underfoot conditions were poor as Leek opened strongly. Bobby Cheadle only lasted 5 minutes as he went off injured and allowed Ad Smith to play most of the game thereafter.
C&N lost a lock to the bin on 12 minutes for raking a Leek player in the ruck but try as they might Leek came up against a strong C&N defence.
Leek had a 5 metre lineout chance on 12 minutes but they lost the ball and the lineout would be a significant weakness for Leek throughout the game for one reason or another.
C&N’s first visit to Leek’s 22 was on 17 minutes and after a Leek clearance gave the hosts a lineout on the left 2 minutes later, a simple passing move across the backs and sloppy defence by Leek including an unfortunate slip let in the C&N centre for a simple try. The conversion was good and C&N led 7-0.
C&N’s 2nd try came in similar fashion to the first one as good handling and poor tackling led to a try on the right on 28 minutes. The conversion was good and it was 14-0.
Leek needed to get back in the game before half time but it was C&N that scored a penalty on 37 minutes for a Leek forward in at the side of the ruck. 17-0.
The half ended with the C&N scrum half yellow carded for trying to elbow Goerge Hunt after a tackle but at 17-0, Leek had a mountain to climb to get back in the match.
The 2nd half opened brightly for Leek but yet again mistakes and unlucky passing cost the best scoring chance on 49 minutes after Sam Hunt retrieved a clearance kick, broke into the C&N 22 and offloaded to Tom Scragg but the wing couldn’t hold on with the line at his mercy.
C&N had a penalty in front of the posts on 57 minutes for Andy Thompson going of his feet at the tackle but the ball hit the post and Leek cleared.
With no sight of a score from Leek, the tactic changed on 67 minutes when a superb maul starting from the C&N 10 metre line went to within 10 metres of the C&N line. C&N were penalised for in at the side and Leek opted for the scrum. They had dominated the scrum all day and this scrum went over the line before the referee awarded a penalty try for offside.
At 17-7 with 10 minutes to go, Leek could hope for a losing bonus point at least.
From the kick-off, Leek knocked on and at the scrum, the front rows came up and after the fracas Ed Cheadle was yellow carded. On 74 minutes, the low point was reached when C&N broke into the Leek 22 and following the tackle Andy Thompson made a reckless challenge and the referee gave a red card. C&N kicked the penalty and led 20-7.
The 13 men of Leek then played their most incisive rugby as they held onto the ball and attacked the tiring C&N team. Sam Hunt, once again, came up with a great play chipping ahead for brother George to knee the ball to the try line and drop to score the try.
The conversion would have got Leek to a bonus point, but Sam Hunt’s attempt hit the post and stayed out. 20-12.
The game ended with another C&N penalty in Leek’s 22 for not releasing in the tackle and the C&N successfully converted his 3rd penalty of the 2nd half to complete the scoring at 23-12.
It had been a tough game for all the players and referee in truth. Both sides were totally committed, sometimes over committed and it resulted in a few spill overs which spoiled an otherwise skilful game of rugby in the conditions.
Sam Hunt played superbly at fly half and Lee Williams in the loose was exemplary. This performance can give Leek some confidence in knowing they weren’t too far off C&N despite an abject 1st half and with plenty of players out of position.
The loss still kept Leek hanging on to 4th place with 41 points with a game in hand on most clubs.
This Saturday, Leek entertain Old Saltleians in the rearranged game from before Christmas. Old Salts have been playing well recently without getting the results so it should be a highly competitive game. KO is 2.15
With the 6 Nations in full swing, both Saturday games are live on the big screen
Ireland v Italy 2.15
And the big one, England v Wales live on all 4 club TVs at 4.45pm. Please bring your friends down, watch Leek play Old Salts and settle down to the big clash.
Hot food and drink served from 1pm.
Author John McDermott