With Jack Newton Taylor returning at full back, Sam Hunt moved to fly half with Ollie Drew at scrum half. Adam Varley and Nick Palmer were in the centre and Kini Buli and Tom Scragg were on the wings.
Jake Bainbridge came up to prop, as Joe Newton Taylor was ill, to partner Ed and Bobby Cheadle in the front row.
Luke Hardern and Ben Barlow were at lock with Joel Booth, Billy Kidd and Andy McFadden in the back row.
Dan Needham, Isaac Reaney and Lewis Dunleavy were on the bench.
With Leek's former players at the club for their annual get together, there was a great atmosphere at EsterChem Park as the game kicked off on a perfect spring afternoon. Tamworth scored after 56 seconds as their forwards set up a couple of rucks before releasing the backs on the right. With an overlap created by the full back, the final pass for the right wing saw him come in to score near the posts. The conversion was good and the visitors were off to a flying start. 0-7.
After another promising move from the visitors from the kick-off, Leek took control of the ball and for the next 25 minutes looked dangerous without being able to make that final pass. Meanwhile Tamworth lost two forwards to injury and it disrupted their set up considerably. It wasn't helped then when on 28 minutes, a yellow card was given for a late tackle in their own 22. The resulting lineout for Leek gave them an ideal opportunity to test the defence but an offside in the line as Billy Kidd came down allowed Tamworth to clear. Indeed this pattern continued as Leek built up pressure and then for one reason or another couldn't make the telling pass or move or retain possession.
On 39 minutes, it looked like finally Leek found the way when Jack Newton Taylor broke tackles on the right and sprinted to the line to touch down. The ball then spilled forward as the last defender came up on Taylor's blind side and as the referee hadn't seen the touchdown first, he deemed a knock on. Tamworth escaped and worse as Ed Cheadle was yellow carded after back chat as the half wound down. The final act of the half was a Tamworth penalty from half way but it fell well short. H/T 0-7.
The 2nd half proved more eventful and from the kick off Jack Newton Taylor was yellow carded for taking the catcher out in the air. Then Nick Palmer was penalised for a high tackle and a few minutes later, a fight erupted in Tamworth's half as the frustration spilled over. It resulted in Jake Bainbridge and the Tamworth centre being red carded on 48 minutes. Again Leek were pressing hard in the left corner but couldn't break through despite a couple of maul drives and then on 57 minutes Joel Booth was yellow carded for an offence at the ruck. The referee warned the Tamworth captain on 66 minutes as the visitors' penalty count went up and a minute later with Leek's maul finally working the lock was yellow carded for blatantly coming round as Leek's pack were 3 metres from the Tamworth line. Not enough for a penalty try though and from the next maul, Leek lost the decision to a failed maul and Tamworth cleared.
It was all Leek now as the injuries and disruption to Tamworth took its toll and on 72 minutes a clearance kick from Tamworth spiralled towards the right touch line with a bounce. Jack Newton Taylor caught the ball in the air. He went around the wing, inside the full back and darted in between the last 2 would be tacklers to score a superb and deserved try. Sam Hunt's conversion under pressure on the left was well executed and the sides drew level at 7 all with all the momentum with Leek. See attached photo at the touchdown.
Leek went close twice with Tom Scragg and Jack Newton Taylor both stopped within a metre of the line. With 5 minutes of added time to play Leek needed some patience to try and set up a winning position and that came with a penalty and chance to catch and drive from the Tamworth 5 metre line. The catch and drive worked but Tamworth dropped the maul and the lock went to the bin. The next line worked but Leek's forwards were held up at the Tamworth line and the referee blew the whistle for full time.
It had been a tough encounter with Tamworth's rear guard action just holding the Leek squad's dominant possession and territorial advantages. Both sides will be frustrated at the result for different reasons but Tamworth's the greater as they conceded 2nd place to Wolverhampton as they beat Walsall with a bonus point win to nudge them past Tamworth into 2nd place. Ludlow's win against Stafford confirms the Shropshire side as champions. Well done to them as the most consistent side in the league this season.
Leek has 2 more games to go against the sides in 11th and 12th places.
This Saturday it's a trip to Telford and then on April 13th, the last league match of the season sees Veseyans visiting Esterchem Park. Veseyans and Stafford are still in the relegation battle with 2 games to go. Telford is relegated.
Please all come down and enjoy the last game atmosphere as Leek's first team squad close out the season at home.
Then to remind everyone that on Saturday May 4th Leek 2nds are in their cup final against Sandbach 3rds. The venue is in Oldham, we think and a day later the 1st team are in the Staffordshire Intermediate Cup Final at Walsall.
Their opponents are either Newcastle or Walsall who still have to play their semi-final. Watch this space for more details.
Author John McDermott