Yet the last two games have proven that it is possible. In getting to within 13 points, leading at the interval, restricting Stoke to 4 tries , whilst scoring 2 tries themselves, the Moorlanders have probably come away from this match with more satisfaction and confidence than their hosts.
Leek slipped to 8th whilst maintaining a positive points difference, but can only look forward now to the rest of the season as Bridgnorth in 3rd are only 7 points ahead of Leek, in this tightly contested league.
Leek made two changes in the forwards this week, starting Luke Staton at lock with Tom Sims on the bench, allowing Ad Nettel to play at No.8 and Matt Slinn to start at blindside and together with Andy McFadden forming a potent defensive back row, designed to tackle anything that moved.With Nick Palmer injured, Lucas Buxton started on the right wing with Ian Harris on the left wing.
Leek played with the slope in the opening half and must have thought the worst, when, after 5 minutes, Stoke's long kicking fly half sent the ball into the Leek 22 for a lineout. A knock on gifted Stoke a 5 metre scrum and although the Leek pack prevented the push over, a couple of rucks sucked in the defence and the wide ball allowed the blind winger to score near the posts. With the simple conversion, Stoke led 7-0 after 6 minutes.
On 12 minutes, Stoke's backs were pressing again when a loose ball was picked up by Sam Hunt, whose break down the left was stopped in Stoke's 22 by a great tackle.
With Leek enjoying good possession, they won a penalty on 24 minutes for offside and McDermott kicked for the line in the Stoke 22. A good line win and several rucks within 10 metres of the Stoke line finally reaped another penalty for not moving away from the tackle and McDermott's simple goal reduced the deficit to 7-3.
Both sides were attempting to run the ball, but defences were strong until the 36th minute, when Stoke's tactic of flat line play, just inside their own half was spotted by Jake Green and the diminutive scrum half took a neat interception and sprinted for the line with wing and full back unable to get near enough for the tackle. The conversion was missed but Leek led 8-7 and continued to press for the remainder of the half as confidence grew.
The break did Stoke a favour as they came out with a strong purpose for the 2nd half and the game was won and lost in the first 10 minutes thereafter.
Initially, Leek was on the break in the 41st minute, but a penalty allowed Stoke to have a lineout midway inside the Leek half. A good maul and then runs near the fringes allowed the Stoke lock to force his way over for a score, despite brave Leek defence. The conversion gave Stoke a 14-8 lead on 43 minutes.
On 48 minutes, Leek was penalised again for handling in the ruck and another lineout inside Leek’s 22 gave Stoke a good attacking platform. Sucking the defence in, Leek finally ran out of tacklers and the centre scored a simple try. The conversion was good and at 21-8, Leek needed to steady the game in order not to get overwhelmed.
Tom Sims came on for Luke Staton at the score and Jake Green, having sustained a head injury left the field on 54 minutes. Ian Harris moved from the wing to scrum half and Adam Smith came onto the left wing.On 65 minutes, Leek’s scrum gave up the ball and it looked like a score, but the ball was dropped over the line.
On 74 minutes, Leek’s defence was again called on to stave off the attack and eventually the ball was held up over the line for a 5 metre scrum. Again, great defence kept the Stoke forwards from scoring, but a clever cross kick by the fly half found the left wing in open space for a catch and score in the left corner. The conversion missed but Stoke had gained the bonus point and at 26-8, Leek faced a difficult last 10 minutes.
Jamie Gordon came on for skipper Jason Milner and after Sam Hunt collected a clearance kick on half way, Leek’s full back rounded 3 players and the 4th high tackled him for a penalty. The kick for the lineout on Stoke’s 22 allowed the forwards to maul to within 10 meters of the line and then after a couple of rucks, Leek created a chance on the right and Lucas Buxton stepped inside his opposite man for a deserved score. McDermott’s conversion missed and the final whistle blew at 26-13.
This was a good performance by the whole of the Leek squad as they defended in numbers and with aggression and then weren’t frightened to attack and spin the ball wide. Their enterprise was well thought out and the defence generally strong in the face of the best team in the division. Well done to all concerned including coach Chris Mudd for his strategy.
In other results, Bridgnorth cemented 3rd spot with a comfortable win over Aston Old Eds which continued their slide. Moseley Oak made further progress along with Tamworth . Shrewsbury and Burntwood both lost which kept the clubs at the foot of the table.
Next week sees Leek face Dixonians at F Ball Park. Kick off is at 2.15pm.This will be followed by the opening game of the 6 Nations Championship for England on the big screen at the club, starting at 5.00pm. With new management, England faces Scotland at Murrayfield for the Calcutta Cup in the oldest international rugby fixture. Please come and support the 1st team and then England or Scotland for a great afternoon’s sport. Food available all afternoon.
Finally a new Zumba class is starting on Wednesday February 15th in the club house. It begins at 7.45pm for 45 minutes and costs only £3.50 a session. Anyone wanting to attend please call Sheila on 371893 or show up on the first night at the club.
Author Lohn McDermott