Leek’s 1st team personnel this season has been changing throughout the summer as injuries, holidays, work and movement to other clubs have all taken their toll on the consistency required to be competitive at this level. Nevertheless, it must be similar for most clubs and Leek must take its chances if it is to repeat or better last season’s tremendous 5th place and 60 league points.
This win at Aston (AOE) was secured with a superb 1st half performance up hill and against the wind, coupled with indiscipline from their hosts who suffered 2 yellow cards and then a desperate battle to hang on in the end as AOE nearly snatched victory at the death.
Luke Granger started his first game for Leek at hooker since 2011. With Jamie Gordon and Jason Milner at prop, they were to endure a torrid afternoon of scrummaging with the home side’s weight advantage causing all kinds of problems for scrum half Dan Needham. He was playing his first game for Leek for a few years and welcomed back from National 3 outfit Rugby Lions. His partnership with Gary McDermott at half back gave the Moorlanders a strong counter attacking platform. Skipper Tom Hine and Tom Sims were at lock and Ad Nettel started his league campaign at No8 with the returning Matt Slinn on the flank and Neill Edge retaining his place on the blindside.
Shane Dicker and George Hunt made up a familiar centre partnership with Nick Palmer on the left wing and new recruit Tom Tavakece on the left wing with Elliott Fowler at full back.
On a sunny afternoon, AOE was quickly on the board after their full back had started the game by kicking out on the full. The resulting scrum on half way saw Leek penalised for pulling down and although the long range attempt by the full back failed, a 5th minute penalty for a high tackle was calmly slotted from 45 metres with the breeze. This was to be AOE’s high point of the half as Leek took control from the kick off after a great tackle on the AOE 22, Leek turned the ball over and quick ball from Needham to Dicker saw the centre deliver a long pass to debutant Tom Tavakece who sprinted past his man to score a try in the right corner. McDermott’s conversion went wide but Leek had reposted well and led 5-3 after 8 minutes.
2 minutes later and a McDermott penalty on AOE’s 22 for offside saw Leek extend their lead to 8-3.
On 15 minutes a reckless high tackle by the AOE flanker saw him yellow carded and McDermott added a 2nd penalty success to hand Leek another 3 points – 11-3.
As Leek pounded the AOE defence, Dan Needham looked clean through but was cynically tripped. The referee yellow carded the wing for this offence on 21 minutes and McDermott kicked his 3rd successive penalty to extend the lead to 14-3.
On 25 minutes AOE finally won some ball and following a good maul, Leek was penalised for a side entry. With a kick to the Leek 5 metres, a good catch and drive may have seen AOE get back into the game, but an accidental offside allowed Leek to clear from the resulting scrum.
Play was fast and furious as Leek defended well up field and on 36 minutes another penalty from McDermott for offside at the ruck gave Leek a strong lead at 17-3. The referee blew for half time early and Leek went into the break in command and having done the hard work uphill.
A minute into the 2nd half and AOE had a glimmer of hope as the full back converted a penalty for hand in the ruck - 17-6.
For the next 20 minutes, Leek looked certain to put the game beyond AOE. On 44 minutes, a metre from the AOE line, Leek was penalised for handling on the floor. Then on 50 minutes, after a quick tap by Dan Needham, he bustled his way over the line to score Leek’s 2nd try. McDermott converted and restored Leek’s dominance at 24-6.
On 57 minutes, Leek was pressing again and Jason Milner was over the line but a brave tackle saw the ball dislodged and cleared.
On 62 minutes, Leek looked to be on the brink of another try when the referee asked an AOE player to release the ball on the floor within a metre of his own line. He then penalised Luke Granger for going to ground to secure the ball and from that moment, Leek’s grip on the game grew weaker as the home side threw caution to the wind, made some changes and started to knock holes in the Leek defence.
A high tackle on 67 minutes allowed another kick for the lineout near Leek’s line and this time the AOE forwards made no mistake in the drive and scored their first try of the game. The conversion was good and at 24-13, hope was rekindled.
James Hall came on for Leek at lock as Tom Hine moved to prop for Jamie Gordon, but Jamie was back on within a couple of minutes as Matt Slinn went off with a wrist injury.
On 77 minutes, a copycat try for the AOE forwards from a lineout drive brought the score to 24-18, but the conversion was missed.
Tom Bourne and Adam Smith were introduced late for Leek as tired legs were struggling to keep the home side’s determination in check.
The referee then played 7 minutes of overtime which was dominated by the home side trying to get the win.
A 5 metre scrum under Leek’s posts as the game entered the final play brought back memories of last year’s encounter when Jake Green slotted a drop goal with the last play to win the game for Leek. However the AOE forwards couldn’t control the ball and the referee blew the final whistle as tempers frayed. Leek had held on.
Leek’s win gives them an early 6th place in the league and next week sees an early break from league action when for the 4th game in a row, leek travels to play away. This time it’s down to Kidderminster for a date with The Carolians in the RFU Intermediate Cup.
Leek’s 1st home league game is on September 29th when Bridgnorth visit St Edwards. It is also Ladies Day and there will be a buffet before the game and live music after the game, which commences at 3pm
Author John McDermott