CREWE & NANTWICH v LEEK MATCH REPORT
By Michael Whitehouse
Leek travelled to Nantwich on Saturday knowing they were facing the in form team of the league which had beaten the top 4 sides in their recent run of 6 successive league wins.
The result, with Leek outscoring C&N in tries by 3 to 1, was to the great credit of the whole squad which played with discipline, skill and commitment that thwarted the efforts of the home side enough to earn themselves 2 valuable league points and continue their recent good form.
Jack Newton Taylor, Tom Scragg and Kini Buli were the back 3 as Will Graham teamed up with the returning Sam Hunt in the centres. Dan Needham and Ollie Drew were at half back. Bobby Cheadle, Ed Cheadle and Joe Newton Taylor continued in the front row with Luke Harden and Jake Hartley at lock. George Hunt, Joel Booth and Billy Kidd made up the back row.
Isaac Reaney, returning Jake Bainbridge and Tom Fairhurst were on the bench.
The pitch was in good condition and the wind didn't play a part as the game kicked off and C&N were quickly applying pressure in the Leek half. On 6 minutes, Sam Hunt was penalised for not moving away after his tackle, he was injured and couldn't move, but the straight forward penalty attempt inside the 22 missed and Leek had an early let off.
On 14 minutes, Sam Hunt was running out of defence and looked to have made a great break but Leek was penalised again as an obstruction caused the break. This time, the C&N 10 kicked the home side into a 3-0 lead.
Leek were very much in the game as the opening quarter finished and took the lead on 22 minutes after good work by the forwards on the left allowed Sam Hunt to chip towards the C&N line. A fumble by the retreating defence allowed Tom Scragg, who had an excellent game looking for the ball at every opportunity, to retrieve the ball and his pass to George Hunt had the flanker scoring a good try. Sam Hunt missed the conversion but Leek led 3-5.
From the kick-off Leek worked their way into the C&N half but then lost the ball and a strong break from the centre and a missed tackle allowed him to breach the defence, make a good inside pass and the C&N No. 8 scored his try. The conversion missed and C&N retook the lead at 8-5 on 25 minutes.
3 minutes later and C&N increased their lead with another penalty for not rolling away at the tackle. 11-5.
On 32 minutes, another C&N break down the right wing looked dangerous until a forward pass stopped the move. Leek's powerful scrum did the rest as they cleared. Sam Hunt had a 39th minute penalty attempt for offside at the ruck but it just missed. Leek then enjoyed a good spell of pressure in the C&N 22, winning a penalty 5 metres out after the forwards tried to ruck over the line. From the scrum, Leek eventually ran blindside but the ball ended up in touch as the half time whistle blew.
C&N 11 - 5 Leek
The wind and rain across the field greeted the players for the start of the 2nd half and C&N were again first on the board after Leek was penalised again for not rolling away quickly enough at the tackle. 14-5 on 47 minutes.
Leek needed to up their game and a minute later, from the kick-off, good retention and then a switch to the right saw Sam Hunt chip through for Tom Scragg. He continued to kick towards the C&N 5 metre line and won the lineout as the defence came across. From the lineout, a good catch and drive had Joel Booth crashing over for Leek's 2nd try. Sam Hunt converted superbly to close the gap to 14-12 on 50 minutes.
Leek continued the pressure now and were gaining the upper hand as strong runs by skipper Luke Hardern and Joel Booth started attracting a few defenders each time. On 61 minutes, after some good passing to the right with Joel Booth and Will Graham, the ball was switched left and Jack Newton Taylor had his first serious run at the defence. Stopped 5 metres short, the forwards drove in to provide ruck support and a couple of rucks later Joe Newton Taylor burrowed his way over for Leek's 3rd try. Sam Hunt couldn't convert but Leek retook the lead at 14-17 on 63 minutes.
Sam Hunt left the field a couple of minutes later with a head injury as Isaac reaney, Jake Bainbridge and Tom Fairhurst all came on to support the Leek cause in the last quarter.
On 66 minutes, C&N put in a huge effort to wrestle the lead back and it looked odds on a try on the right but a forward pass brought the penalty back in front of the posts for offside and equalising penalty made it 17 all with perhaps 12 minutes remaining.
Both sides then played a more cautious game as they preserved what they had and tried to limit mistakes and so the game petered out as the referee blew right on time.
In the scheme of the league and form, this was an outstanding result for Leek following indifferent displays over Christmas and New Year. Wins against Camp Hill and away at Tamworth in the Staffs Cup since and this draw at C&N puts the Moorlanders in good shape to tackle the league's top 2 sides next. First up is Wolverhampton this Saturday. They took 2nd place this weekend after a close win against Tamworth. Then after a week off, Leek host league leaders Ludlow on February 16th. Ludlow increased their lead at the top with a convincing win at Camp Hill.
Newcastle moved to 4th place with an away win at Walsall, so despite the draw Leek moved down a place from 6th to 7th. Only 4 points separate Newcastle in 4th with 42 points and Spartans in 8th with 38. Leek currently has 40 points.
A correction from last week is noted in that the Newcastle Stafford game last week did not double up as a league and Staffordshire Cup match. It was just a league match. The cup encounter will be played on February 9th.
The semi-final draw has been made and Leek has a home tie against Wolverhampton which is likely to be played on February 23rd. Newcastle or Stafford host Walsall in the other semi-final of the intermediate cup.
The 6 Nations Championship gets under way this weekend with the opening game France v Wales on Friday evening. KO is 8pm.
On Saturday after the Leek Wolverhampton game, England take on Ireland in Dublin. The game is live at the club. Come and enjoy the afternoon's entertainment at Leek Rugby Club in the company of your friends and family. All welcome.