Last year, Leek's visit to Shropshire saw the Moorlanders drop to their worst defeat in the league as they shipped over 60 points whilst fielding a young and inexperienced side. It was the only really poor defeat of that season and so this year, Leek had a big incentive to show their true merit in this fixture and this they did with a stunning 3 try to 1 victory in the 30 degree heat.
Luke Hardern has been lost to a broken hand for 8 weeks and Luke Staton for 3 weeks working and along with Luke Granger's injury, Nick Palmer was also unavailable, so a lot rested on forwards to retain ball and especially hold their own in the tight. Jo Taylor, Jason Milner and Jamie Clarke is becoming the front row of choice and Tom Sims was partnered by Dave Ackerley at lock with Martin Slinn back on the blindside and Ad Nettel moving to No.8, Andy McFadden started at open side flanker.
Ian Harris and Gary McDermott were at half back and Simon Drew moved in from the wing to partner Shane Dicker at centre. Ollie Drew and George Hunt completed the sextet of 19 year olds in the starting line-up with Sam Hunt at full back.
It was a blisteringly hot day and Chris Mudd, Leek's coach took a conservative approach to the squad's exposure before the game with a concentrated 30 minutes of a warm up and plenty of fluid intake.
The opening kick off saw Leek concede a lineout in their 22 and from the catch and drive, Leek's forwards held up the drive and won a scrum. A clean take and Leek had cleared the initial pressure.
On 7 minutes after Leek had reached the Bridgnorth 22, a clearance kick from the full back found his counterpart Sam Hunt fielding the ball. Hunt's incisive run set up a ruck between the 22 and 10 metre line from which Gary McDermott decided to test his opposite man. Handing him off comprehensively, the fly half then lurched to the left and out sprinted the full back for the left hand corner for the opening score. Sam Hunt missed the difficult kick but Leek had shown they weren't there just to make up the numbers this time. 5-0.
On 13 minutes Sam Hunt had an easier attempt to add to Leek's score with a penalty for holding on, but the kick went just wide.
With neither side breaking defences for the next 10 minutes, it took an offside from Leek to give Bridgnorth a shot at goal which was superbly executed to reduce Leek's lead to 5-3 on 23 minutes.
3 minutes later and Leek's forwards created another chance for a try and only a great tackle on Ollie Drew prevented a score in the left corner. He was penalised for holding on and the quick take was halted at the 22 as Leek's back row tried to steal the ball and Leek won the penalty for holding on. Hunt's attempt was good and Leek moved out to 8-3.
On 30 minutes, a penalty for a high tackle saw Bridgnorth's kicker shave the wrong side of the upright, but 6 minutes later with some forward pressure and momentum from a scrum, a simple blindside No8 pickup saw the right wing score a try in the corner. The conversion missed and the sides were level at 8 all.
As the game moved into stoppage time Leek had a scrum on half way in centre field. McDermott took the ball and decided to try his luck again through the fly half channel. No tackle was made and his swerve to the left corner, reminiscent of his first try, saw the elusive 10 score in exactly the same place. Hunt's superb conversion from the touchline increased Leek's lead to 15-8 as the half ended.
The 2nd half started with Bridgnorth's forwards trying to keep the ball tight and their reward was an early 42nd minute penalty for a Leek forward not moving away at the ruck. The penalty kick was good and Bridgnorth were up to 11-15.
1 minute later and Hunt had a good chance to claim the 3 points back as Bridgnorth were penalised for holding on, but his kick was pushed wide.
The next score was going to be crucial and it came on 51 minutes from an unlikely source but from an initial McDermott break through the line. The set up of the ruck and then maul inside the Bridgnorth 22, saw Andy McFadden controlling the maul as Leek's forwards drove over the line for a deserved score. Hunt converted and at 22-11 Leek had pinched a winning lead.
On 60 minutes Jamie Clarke was replaced by a man playing his first game for 3 years, Tom Hine. After a bad knee injury and hard work to even play again, Tom went into the 2nd row, as Dave Ackerley moved up to prop.
Bridgnorth stepped up their forward work and threatened in the Leek 22 but on 65 minutes, Shane Dicker pounced on a loose ball out of the side of a ruck in his own 22 and set off at pace down the centre of the field. Only a desperate tackle by the full back on the 22 meant the big inside centre's pass one handed to Ollie Drew didn't quite go to hand and Bridgnorth had had a big let off.
Despite Bridgnorth's worthy efforts to break Leek's defence down, the Moorlanders were comfortable and disciplined in their work and not until the 82nd minute did danger really come again for Leek as the fly half kicked for the corner and with everyone allowing the ball to bounce, young Ollie Drew found himself with the ball. His pace got him to the outskirts of his own 22 before a good tackle stopped him. Simon Drew was then yellow carded for his involvement in a scuffle for the ball off the field and meant Leek played out the remaining 4 minutes a man down.
Bridgnorth couldn't make further headway and it meant that Leek had denied them a losing bonus point.
It was a great performance from the whole team and credit goes to Chris Mudd for his simple approach to the tactics of the game.
Great defence from the back row and backs saw the home side frustrated without real continuity to their game and leek came out worthy winners.
The win pushed Leek up to 6th and with it, meant that Stoke remains the only side with a 100% record after 3 games.
Leek entertain the Hartwell Lane outfit this Saturday at F Ball Park. Kick off is at 3pm in what is going to be a severe test for the Moorlanders. Stoke has scored over 50 points per game so far this season and look already on course for a successful year. Leek will need no further incentive than this to give their absolute best to compete with their neighbours.
Please come along and support your team.
The clubhouse will be open at 8am for the England France World Cup Quarter Final clash on Saturday as well.
It is also Past captain's luncheon and their will be a buffet on from 1.30pm.
The draw for the 2nd round of the RFU Intermediate Cup has been made today.
Stoke, the national champions start their defence with a trip to Droitwich, whilst Leek has a home tie against Ashbourne.
Games to be played on Saturday, October 15th, Kick off 3pm.
Author John McDermott