....cannot be faulted as the Moorlanders played with discipline and courage against the league’s top side this season.
Sporting 10 starting line-up personnel or positional changes and 2 bench changes from the defeat at Wolverhampton last week, Leek, particularly in the backs, were learning on the job.
Jack Newton Taylor at full back was the only starter in the backs from last week playing in position. Joe Cooper and Andy Outram, the 2nd team centres were on the wings with Will Graham moving to 12 and Tom Scragg to 13.
Dan Needham was at fly half for the injured Sam Hunt and Ollie Drew started at scrum half.
The front row was the only unchanged unit as Joe Newton Taylor, Ed Cheadle and Bobby Cheadle started. With skipper Luke Hardern still out and Ben Barlow his usual partner unavailable, a new lock pair was introduced.
D J, Dave Allen, a hardworking, top training 2nd teamer and Jake Bainbridge, back from injury and starting his first game of the season but having to lock rather than play in his customary back row position, were to have a solid scrum performance and no little part in open play as they worked hard to dent the Ludlow pack all game.
In the back row, Joel Booth was at No.8, Lee Williams was on the blind side as Leek welcomed back George Hunt to the flank.
On the bench, Leek had Ad Smith, Tom Fairhurst and Matt Tanner.
On a glorious day for rugby, with Ludlow castle as the backdrop, (see attached photo with Ollie drew about to feed the scrum)), Leek played with the slope and wind 1st half but it was Ludlow which had the first opportunity from a penalty on 7 minutes for offside at the ruck. However the attempt went wide. From the 22 drop out though, Ludlow’s retention was good and for the first time, Leek’s backs witnessed the dangers from their opposite numbers as the full back carved his way through the centres before passing to the right wing for a score made easier for the conversion by his run to the posts. 7-0 on 9 minutes.
Leek came back strongly and were pressing on the Ludlow 5 metre line on 16 minutes when a touch clearance kick was unfortunately knocked on by Leek on Ludlow’s 22. The backs collected and following good continuity, the outside centre proved too elusive to side step and then sprint under the Leek posts. The conversion was good and it looked ominous for Leek at 14-0.
As the 2nd quarter began, Ludlow were pressing deep in Leek’s 22. The defence was excellent from Leek and a knock on advantage on Leek’s right saw Jack Newton Taylor use his pace to go around the cover and pass inside to Will Graham on the Ludlow 22 for the centre to sprint in and score a good try. The conversion by Jack Newton Taylor unfortunately hit the post and stayed out. 14-5 on 22 minutes. On 26 minutes George Hunt and his opposite man were yellow carded and with Leek gaining much more possession and hanging on to the ball, they had a 33 minute chance at a penalty to reduce the arrears further but Newton Taylor’s effort went wide.
Ludlow pressed late in the half and the flanker scored the 3rd try in the left corner as the Leek defence was finally outnumbered following a scrum outside Leek’s 22.
The conversion was superb to extend the lead to 21-5.
Joe Cooper took an interception on 39 minutes down the left flank but was always going to be caught by the speedy wing and his neat chip into the 22 went into touch.
The half was to continue until the 47th minute and enough time for Leek to score their 2nd try. Poor passing by the Ludlow backs outside their own 22, led to one of them being caught in possession. A penalty for not releasing and Leek applied the pressure at the lineout. A further penalty for slowing release was given and the excellent Joel Booth took a quick tap to crash through the defenders and score Leek’s 2nd try. This time Newton taylor did convert and the half time whistle blew with the score at 21-12.
It took Ludlow only 2 minutes of the 2nd half to score their 4th and bonus point try as they patiently gained territory in the Leek half before an overlap on the right gave the centre a run in for the try. The conversion was good and at 28-12, it looked like it was going to be a long hard 2nd half for Leek.
As it turned out, Ludlow didn’t score again until the 81st minute as Leek’s pack worked tirelessly, led by Joel Booth and Ed Cheadle, ably assisted by the rest of the unit to deprive Ludlow of possession and territory and when they did have possession , make it very difficult for them to use their backs.
Time and again, Leek drove up field tight to the breakdown and on 55 minutes only superb last ditch tackling on their own line prevented Leek’s forwards from a score. On 59 minutes, the Ludlow wing was yellow carded for persistently not releasing in the tackle as the penalty count mounted for the home side. In contrast, Leek’s discipline was to be commended as they gave fewer penalties away than in any game this season, proving they can do it, if they have a mind to do it.
Finally, on 66 minutes, further pressure from Leek forced a penalty after Lee Williams charged towards the line. Leek opted for the scrum and Leek’s patience in the rucks brought several penalties before the final one, as Leek drove the Ludlow pack towards their line, led to a penalty try on 71 minutes. 28-19.
Leek deserved their score and were within any score of a bonus point. The 2nd half efforts by all the squad were to be commended but as injury time came, Leek succumbed to 2 late tries, both of which had the look of forward passes in the movements but the relentless good passing and speed eventually led to a converted try and an unconverted try to end the match at 40-19.
Those final scores somewhat flattered Ludlow’s final total and Leek can take a lot of positives from this game, not least the experience gained by D J Allen and Matt Tanner in the pack, who both showed that given the chance, they can cope at this level. George Hunt’s return was significant also as the flanker tackled superbly all afternoon. Jake Bainbridge played a full 80 minutes and he is approaching match fitness and Joel Booth’s appetite for the ball and all round play was commendable. The front row did a great job in the tight and around the field and Dan Needham ran the backs very well when they had a chance to pass and run. Will Graham is proving adept as a utility back.
3 tough away losses at Camp Hill, Wolverhampton and Ludlow, keeps Leek in 7th position on 16 points with Tamworth still making the running and remaining undefeated after their home win against Veseyans.
Ludlow are 2nd and with Spartans and Camp Hill drawing, Newcastle’s 1 point win against neighbours Crewe & Nantwich, moves them to 20 points and are a place ahead of Leek.
Newcastle travel to EsterChem Park this Saturday and so the incentive is there for the Leek squad to train hard this week and get ready for what will be a touch fixture against their local rivals.
Please remember that with the clocks going back, all fixtures until the end of February kick off at 2.15pm latest.
Indeed, this week, the game against Newcastle will kick off at 2pm as the club needs the extra time to prepare for its Bonfire Night Celebrations
starting on Saturday evening with gates open at 6pm and the bonfire will be lit at 7.30pm. The rugby club’s renowned Fireworks display will start soon after the bonfire gets going.
Plenty of hot food and drink available outside and inside the clubhouse.
Please try to leave your car at home, but if travelling, then respect the cones and volunteers directing you to the car parks. Please do not park on grass verges.
Admission is free but all donations gratefully received for the club development fund.
Author John McDermott