The difference this time was that Leek were clinical in their finishing, accurate in their decision making, absolutely resolute in defence and could not be denied victory that gave them their 3rd bonus point win in a row and kept them in 3rd place in the league.
Dan Smith returned at full back as Ian Harris continued his comeback at half back with Gary McDermott. Shane Dicker and Sam Hunt provided the centre partnership and Nick Palmer and Tom Tavakece were on the wings.
Skipper Tom Hine, Ed Cheadle and Jason Milner were in the front row and Ed Harrison and Tom Sims were at lock. Ad Nettel was back on the flank with Simon Drew and Andy McFadden was at No8.
Ad Smith, Tom Bourne and the returning Matt Slinn were on the bench.
The pitch and weather conditions were perfect as Old Salts kicked off, but Leek were on the scoreboard after only 3 minutes when Sam Hunt put in a fantastic tackle on his opposite man as Salts ran the ball left from their own 22. Ed Harrison went on the charge and sucked in the defence and then great hands wide to Leek’s left allowed Nick Palmer to exploit the overlap and score in the left hand corner. Sam Hunt missed the conversion, but Leek was on the board at 5-0.
6 minutes later and Sam Hunt was converting a simple penalty on the Salts 22 for not rolling away in the tackle. 8-0.
On 13 minutes, a clearance from the Salts full back was fielded by Palmer and a simple offside decision for a player in front of the kick gave Leek the advantage. As the forwards mauled and rucked upfield, another penalty for came for offside and Hunt stepped up to increase the Leek lead to 11-0.
Then the next phase of play really set the tone. The drop kick restart was fielded by skipper Tom Hine. His dedication to the Leek cause cannot be understated with his all round dynamic play in defence and attack, leading from the front.
From his catch, his immediate decision to run at the Salts forwards saw him break through 2 tackles. At the 3rd attempt, Tom set up the ruck. Ian Harris took the ball and passed to McDermott who found Shane Dicker on the charge. The powerful inside back charged upfield to well inside the 22 before his pass found the irrepressible Ad Nettel who scored under the posts. Sam Hunt converted and at 18-0 with 16 minutes played, the expected fight back from Old Salts needed to start urgently if they weren’t to be overwhelmed.
This, the visitors started to do, firstly by getting the first up tackles right and then retaining the ball better through the forwards. Leek found themselves in a midfield battle with both sides matching each other for the rest of the half. Salts could not break into the Leek 22 though and there was little threat of Leek’s line being breached.
The half ended with Leek 18-0 up and coach Ian Gittens urging his team to continue in the same vein from the start of the 2nd half.
The next score would be crucial and on 42 minutes a poor clearance from Salts only found Nick Palmer on the right wing on half way. His run and pass to McDermott, then set up Shane Dicker for another run down the left and as defenders caught up with him 5 metres out, his pass found Ad Nettel again and the flanker rounded the last defender and sprinted in under the posts for his 2nd and Leek’s 3rd try of the day. Hunt converted and at 25-0, Salts would need a miracle to get back in the game.
However, as they managed that last week against Spartans, and then won a penalty for offside at the ruck, the decision to kick for the lineout 10 metres from the Leek line instead of taking the 3 points on offer, made everyone aware that Salts were still believing they could win the game.
A fine take in the lineout set up the maul, but the alert Leek forwards swarmed into the maul and initially drove their bigger opponents back. The maul then stopped and restarted and then a break off saw the No8 reach the line but was held up and then nudged back. Finally the ball was spun wider but a poor pass allowed a Leek foot to half clear the ball. The chase was on and then Leek won a penalty for holding on and the Salts only real look at the Leek line left them pointless.
Sam Hunt missed a 55th minute penalty for offside but then converted a 65th minute one for handling in the scrum to keep the score board ticking up to 28-0.
Tom Bourne came on for Jason Milner and Matt Slinn came on for Simon Drew in the 66th minute and 2 minutes later Leek sealed the game and the bonus point with their 4th try after good work had sucked some defenders in the midfield and then Ed Harrison burst through a tackle and then made a superb pass to supporting Sam Hunt who again rounded the last defender and scored near the posts. He converted his own try and Leek was up to 35-0.
Salts were finally tiring and on 72 minutes, full back Dan Smith went on a solo run from his own half, first sprinting between 2 would be tacklers, then dummying a pass to Tom Tavakece before twisting round inside, slowing down and then sprinting again to score an unlikely individualistic try. Sam Hunt could not convert but that score rounded the game off at 40-0 and even a 5metre line in the last minute for Salts couldn’t be converted as Andy McFadden took the ball clean from the line. Ed Cheadle and Tom Hine were still tackling anything with the ball in hand and the last efforts by Salts to score a consolation ended with a kick into the Leek in goal area, but Dan Smith touched down to end the match.
This was a step up by Leek from the previous 2 weeks as Salts are a fine side, but the Moorlanders may well have to do it again in 2 weeks because the next fixture is against league leaders Wolverhampton, away. The Staffs side, promoted in 2nd place last year have taken this league by storm, scoring at least 4 tries in every match played and losing only once at Stafford.
The kick off at Wolverhampton on Saturday, November 17th, is at 2.15. Your support is welcomed. Next week, the 1sts will be rested.
In other games, Moseley Oak held off Stafford to maintain 2nd place, Veseyans won at Aston Old Eds and Bridgnorth scored over 100 points against struggling Dixonians. Silhillians 5th win in a row at Tamworth sees the old boys sit 1 point behind Leek and are currently the form side in the league.
Auther John McDermott