Whilst Leek couldn't match the physical size of their visitors, their collective spirit, determination and fitness saw them edge a game that was decided when the Spartans best player, the blindside flanker spent 10 minutes in the bin and Leek bagged 2 tries in the period.
Dan Smith, Nick Palmer and Ad Smith started as the back 3 with Naz Narawa and Sam Hunt in the centre partnership and Dan Needham and Gary McDermott at half back.
Ed Cheadle, Jason Milner, Tom Hine with Tom Sims and Luke Hardern made up the familiar front 5. Andy McFadden was back at No.8 with Simon Drew and Ad Nettel on the flanks. Tom Bourne, James Hall and Jack Newton Taylor were on the bench.
The pitch was soft, but held up very well on a still, dank afternoon with the rain falling as the game kicked off late due to traffic problems the visitors suffered on their journey north.
During the first 5 minutes, the pattern of the game began to emerge as Naz Narawa and then Ad Smith made strong open runs with the Spartans pack stronger in the scrum and maul.
On 8 minutes, a clearance kick from Spartans found Dan Smith on his own 10 metre line. The adventurous full back soon moved into top gear as he swerved and sprinted through a surprised set of Spartans. As he approached the line, only the Spartans full back could prevent a score, but with Gary McDermott on his shoulder a simple pass would have opened the scoring. As it was, Dan went for the line himself and was held up over the line, giving Leek a 5 metre scrum from which the Spartans won possession against the head.
2 minutes later and a penalty for Leek as 3 Spartans didn't release in the tackle and Sam Hunt stepped up to convert and give Leek a 3-0 lead.
On 14 minutes, a penalty advantage in midfield gave Leek another opportunity as the ball sped wide to Nick palmer on the left wing but he was tackled into touch 5 metres short of the Spartans line. The solid defensive line and drive out of the 22 saw the visitors clear comfortably. Still Leek were making the running in the opening quarter and Naz Narawa burst deep into the Spartans 22 to set up a dangerous position but he was penalised for holding on.
The game then entered a phase of midfield possession and defence with both sides using their respective strengths to try and gain an advantage, but it wasn't until the 32nd minute that another chance came when Dan Needham won a penalty after a good break from the base of the scrum and Spartans were penalised for not releasing. Sam Hunt doubled Leek's lead with a well struck penalty. 6-0.
Finally Spartans got into the game in an attacking sense when on 36 minutes following a lineout in the Leek 22, the forwards set up a series of rucks near the right corner. Leek were penalised for offside and Spartans opted for the scrum. Another penalty for a front row infringement saw Spartans opt again for the scrum and this time, the powerful pack drove the Leek scrum over their own line for the No.8 to touch down for the opening try of the game. The conversion was excellent by the Spartans fly half and right on half time the visitors had taken the lead for the first time at 7-6.
Coach Ian Gittens earned his corn at the break as he instructed the Leek players on the way to play in the 2nd half and 2 minutes into the half, Leek had a chance to take back the lead after they won the kick off and set up a series of rucks which moved the Moorlanders within 10 metres of the Spartans line. Sam Hunt's attempt went wide though.
On 50 minutes another Leek penalty came for offside. It was kickable but skipper Tom Hine elected to kick for the lineout as close to Spartans 5 metre line as possible. Sam Hunt did the business with an excellent kick to hand Leek a lineout about 8 metres out. The catch and drive earned another penalty as the Spartans 6 slowed the ball up. The referee produced a card for the flanker as it had been his 2nd offence in quick succession and Leek opted for the lineout again, right on the Spartans 5 metre line. Andy McFadden's catch was slightly knocked back, but the alert Simon Drew took the ball and drove hard into the defence. He almost made the line and as the ball came back, Tom Sims was on hand to pick up and crash over for leek's opening try. Sam Hunt's conversion missed but Leek had retaken the lead at 11-7.
Jack Taylor came on for Ad Smith and Tom Bourne came on for Jason Milner as Leek pressed again on 63 minutes with another series of rucks getting them to within 5 metres of the Spartans line. Ad Nettel called for a quick tap and Dan Needham passed him the ball speedily to allow the alert flanker to dive through a tackle and score Leek's 2nd try. Sam Hunt's conversion missed as the Spartans flanker re-entered the game with Leek now holding a 16-7 lead.
James Hall came on for Simon Drew
Leek had another chance on 66 minutes as the forwards pounded the Spartans defence and but for a dropped ball may well have scored again. As it was, Spartans picked up now and a clearance kick from the fly half found Dan Smith fielding the ball deep in his own 22 on 70 minutes. His long clearance kick was caught on half way, but Leek's backs were offside in front of the kicker and Spartans had a scrum 15 metres from Leek's line.
The first drive moved the visitors to the Leek 5 metre line where the home pack was penalised for not pushing straight and from the reset scrum, the well organised Spartans drove over for the No.8 to score his 2nd and Spartans 2nd try. The conversion missed, but at 16-12, the last 8 minutes were going to be a nervous time for the home support.
As Spartans tried to pin Leek in their 22 from a kick on 76 minutes, the long kicking boot of Dan Smith reposted with a clearance that bounced into touch only 15 metres from the Spartans line and the last 4 minutes were played out in midfield with both sides still playing excellent rugby in the murky conditions.
It was a fine spectacle despite the underfoot problems and both sets of players can be congratulated on producing a highly skilful and competitive match.
4 of the other games in the league produced wins of 2 or 3 points, so showing how competitive this league is. The exception was in the clash of the top 2 teams, where 2nd placed Silhillians, the form team of the division won their 8th straight match in defeating Wolverhampton 39-18. It was the Wolves' first match without a point and moved Silhillians to within a point of Wolves at the top.
Moseley Oak ground out a close win at Leek's next opponents, Aston Old Eds. Veseyans won narrowly at Tamworth as did Stafford at Bridgnorth.
This Saturday sees the first matches of the reverse fixtures with Leek kicking off against Aston Old Eds at St Edwards Park at 2.15pm. Come along and enjoy some festive cheer. It should be a great afternoon's entertainment.
Happy Christmas to all members and friends of the club from the club committee.