Leek's opening month has been littered with unavailability and therefore inconsistency in selection, but the significant return this week of lock, Luke Hardern, showed with his talents both in the tight and loose play, Leek's forwards could wrestle the initiative away from opponents and unlock the key to victory over quality sides like Bridgnorth.
Skipper Tom Hine moved up to loose head prop with Luke Granger and Jason Milner making up the front row. Luke Hardern's return at lock and a 1st start at lock for James Hall meant Leek's engine room was at its bulkiest all season. Adam Nettel was injured, so Simon Drew took his place on the flank and Andy McFadden continued at No8 with Tom Sims moving from lock to flanker.
The backs looked solid with Needham and McDermott at half back. Lee Williams came in at 12 and partnered the returning George Hunt. Nick Palmer and Tom Kavacece were on the wings with Sam Hunt at full back.
On a fine Autumn day for rugby, the visitors made the perfect start benefitting from a fumble by Sam Hunt in the first minute as he tried to gather a bouncing ball, kicked into the Leek left hand corner cleverly by the dangerous Bridgnorth scrum half. Leek had to concede a penalty for not releasing and the resulting kick to the line gave the visitors a lineout on Leek's 5 metre line. In this phase of play though, the Bridgnorth prop tore ligaments and the game was held up for 5 minutes as he was stretchered off.
Leek defended the lineout really well, driving the Bridgnorth pack back, but they managed to recycle the ball a couple of times which exposed the Leek defence on the right side and good handling then allowed the full back to ghost into the line for the overlap to score a try. The conversion was missed, but the threat from Bridgnorth was ominous.
From the kick off, Luke Hardern showed his intent for the afternoon as he hit the catcher with a perfectly timed tackle to get Leek on the front foot and only a foot in touch about 8 metres from the Bridgnorth line prevented an equalising score
Leek won a 9th minute penalty for not rolling away, but Sam Hunt's attempt went wide, but with Leek still pressing a poor clearance kick from Bridgnorth on 11 minutes saw Tom Kavacece catch the ball on the half way. He drove at the onrushing backs to set up a ruck. A quick ball inside the visitor's half for another ruck then released Sam Hunt into the line. His pace broke 2 tackles and a perfectly timed pass to Nick Palmer saw the gifted Leek wing sprint in near the posts.
Hunt's conversion was good and Leek led 7-5
The game flowed back and forth as both sides tried to work the ball wide but on 22 minutes a wayward pass in the Bridgnorth centre on halfway and a brilliant pick up by Tom Kavacece saw the wing weave his way to the Bridgnorth line for Leek's 2nd try. Hunt made no mistake with the conversion and Leek led 14-5.
2 minutes later and strong play from the Bridgnorth scrum half who made a blindside break, ran through poor tackle attempts and then offloaded a great pass which let the flanker go over for Bridgnorth's 2nd try. The conversion was missed and Leek's lead was cut to 14-12.
Ian Harris came on for the injured George Hunt and on 33 minutes, Leek won a penalty for hands in the ruck and Hunt slotted the simple penalty to increase the Leek lead to 17-12.
3 minutes later and Bridgnorth won a penalty for offside and the wing slotted his penalty to peg Leek back to 17-15.
With the half closing down and a Leek lineout on half way, Andy McFadden's catch in the line predicated a fine try. Quick ball off the top gave McDermott the chance to pass inside to Luke Hardern who went on a rampage at pace. Slicing through tackles and handing off, it looked like the young Leek lock was going all the way, but he was hauled down a yard from the Bridgnorth line. His alertness, looking for the offload and Nick Palmer's support saw the Leek wing touch down for his 2nd try of the day and stun the visitors just on half time. Hunt's conversion was good and Leek ended the half 24-15 in the lead after a really competitive half.
Leek's 2nd half started at the double with a scrum win about 35 metres out. Quick rucking blindside and a fantastic pass take from Tom Sims, got him near to the Bridgnorth line. The ball came back and scrumhalf Dan Needham went over in the left corner to secure a 4 try bonus point for Leek. Hunt's conversion was immense and Leek led 31-15.
A strong comeback from Bridgnorth gave them a 5 metre lineout, but Leek's strong defence averted the danger and then on 61 minutes, Leek won another penalty as Luke Hardern was high tackled. Sam Hunt coolly kicked the goal and Leek led 34-15.
Luke Granger gave way to young hooker Ed Cheadle, making his league debut for Leek on 66 minutes and Jamie Gordon came on for Luke Hardern as Tom Hine moved back to lock on 72 minutes, but the try fest hadn't finished yet and on 74 minutes, a Leek penalty for holding on in the tackle after a clearance kick from the Bridgnorth line allowed Dan Needham to take a quick tap.
The alert Sam Hunt called blind and Needham's pass gave the fullback a platform to jink his way around 2 defenders and outsprint the final man for a superb try in the right corner. He converted his own try magnificently and Leek moved up to 41-15.
There was still time for a Bridgnorth riposte and it came on 80 minutes as the full back scored his 2nd try with the Leek defence not disciplined to come up together. The conversion was good but the game was over and Bridgnorth's 3rd try meant they would leave Leek pointless but having contributed to an outstanding game of rugby at this level.
With only 3 league games played this season, this league is still sorting itself out and some unexpected results occurred elsewhere with both Tamworth and Stafford losing at home and Wolverhampton, a promoted side from last year, now clearly setting the pace with their 3rd win against the favourites to win the league, Old Saltleians. Moseley Oak continues their impressive start with their 3rd win against winless Lordswood Dixonians and Silhillians, the side which has moved across the leagues won their first game at Spartans.
Leek travels to Silhillians this week with a 3pm kick off. Please come and support the team.
The next league home game is on Saturday, October 20th against Lordswood Dixonians
Author John McDermott