Usually the teams are well matched and with the rain starting as the teams ran onto the pitch, it would have been little surprise to most observers that a close tussle would play out in front of them.
In reality, Leek seemed to want the win more than their visitors and the decision making at half back probably was the difference between the 2 sides on the day.
Leek's Jason Milner missed his first league game of the season following a freak accident on the training ground which left him needing stitches above the eye. It meant a first start for young tight head Tom Bourne who joined Ed Cheadle and skipper Tom Hine in the front row.
Tom Sims was back at lock with Luke Hardern and Andy McFadden moved to the flank with Ad Nettel as newcomer Naz Narawa started at No8.
Dan Needham and Gary McDermott were at half back with Shane Dicker accompanied by Sam Hunt in the centre. Brother George Hunt and Ad Smith were on the wings and Dan Smith was back at full back, following his one week absence with a leg injury.
The bench saw Jamie Gordon, Ed Harrison and Jack Newton-Taylor give the squad a very solid look.
The steady rain started as the game commenced and continued throughout the entire affair meaning the players would have to be careful to look after the ball in passing, catching and in contact. Early on, it became clear that Stafford's usually dominant set scrum was not going to roll over the Leek 8 and with Ed Cheadle in tremendous form with the throw ins, Leek's set pieces looked solid all game and meant front foot rugby could be attempted given the chance and conditions.
An early 4th minute penalty for offside gave Sam Hunt the chance to get Leek of the mark, but his good attempt went just wide. Play was generally cautious for the next few minutes with both sides making handling errors as they looked for field position. Then on 12 minutes, Leek's forwards sustained a rucking drive into the Stafford 22, won a penalty for offside but in the advantage time, Shane Dicker set up a maul and as the ball popped out, Andy McFadden was on hand to take the pass and sprint in unopposed from 10 metres. Sam Hunt converted and leek led 7-0.
Again play reverted to each side looking for territory and waiting on a mistake which came on 22 minutes. McDermott's attempted clearance from the Leek 22 was half charged down by the onrushing Stafford flanker. The ball ended up the field to be retrieved by a Leek player whom the referee deemed to be in an offside position. Scrum half Matt Walklate kicked the penalty to get Stafford on the score board at 7-3.
2 minutes later and Leek were pressing when McDermott sidestepped the Stafford right wing and with the line begging lost his footing and spilled the ball.
On 30 minutes, Leek were again pressing in the Stafford 22 when the defence was caught offside in front of the posts and Sam Hunt converted to extend the lead to 10-3.
As the half closed, Stafford had their best sustained period of attack which culminated in a penalty from a scrum infringement. The kick for the corner was the prelude to a concerted drive for the Leek line, but the defence repulsed the succession of rucks and when the ball was passed wide a mistake in midfield allowed Leek to clear.
Half Time: Leek 10 - 3 Stafford.
At the half, Narawa left the field with a serious facial injury and Ed Harrison came into lock with Tom Sims moving to the flank and Andy McFadden to No8 and on 58 minutes with the game still being played out in midfield with both sides trying to kick for position, young Jack Newton-Taylor entered the game on the right wing.
His first action was to field a clearance kick on half way and then dance around 5 would be tacklers on his way to the left wing where he straightened and was tackled by the wing. In the ensuing ruck, Luke Hardern was yellow carded for over zealous rucking, but on 63 minutes with the Leek forwards rucking superbly down the right flank, another penalty for slowing the ball allowed Sam Hunt to kick a penalty to increase the Leek advantage to 13-3.
Leek's forwards had now stepped up a gear and on 70 minutes a charge down inside the Stafford 22 caused another penalty for offside, but this time to Leek. The seemingly obvious penalty attempt saw the Stafford players walk behind the posts as Sam Hunt approached, but the alert Jack Newton Taylor urged Dan Needham to take a quick tapped penalty and his speed and pass saw the youngster dot down in the right corner for Leek's 2nd and decisive try. Hunt missed the conversion but at 18-3, Leek looked to have secured the win.
Another penalty on 77 minutes for not releasing allowed Sam Hunt to convert his 3rd penalty for a 21-3 lead and Leek ended the game deep in Stafford territory pressing the home defence.
This was an excellent performance by the whole squad in the poor conditions and the application of the players was exemplary. Special mention must go to Ed Cheadle whose tackling qualities at hooker, as well as his throwing into the lineout are giving Leek an extra dimension in defence and at set piece.
Stafford will regroup no doubt and will be looking to up their game as they are the only side to defeat high flying Wolverhampton this season and so are capable of beating any team on their day.
Ironically, despite the win, Leek dropped a place to 5th because of the official resignation of Dixonians from the league. Those teams that had already played Dixonians, including Leek, had the results expunged from the playing record. Silhillians climbed to 2nd with a close win against improving Veseyans. Moseley Oak, Leek's next opponents, lost 2nd place with defeat at Spartans and Old Salts edged a tight game at Bridgnorth. Wolves maintained their bonus point record with a win at Aston Old Eds, leaving Tamworth at the foot of the table.
This Saturday sees the league take a break from the action, and Leek will travel to Moseley Oak on Saturday, December 8th, with only 3 points separating the sides from 2nd to 5th. KO is 2.15pm.
Leek will complete the year with 2 home league fixtures against Spartans on December 15th and against Aston Old Eds on December 22nd.
Please come and support the team as they continue to play some good rugby and get involved in the mix with the rest of the teams in Midlands West 2 (N).
Author John McDermott