Sills moved to the top of the table for the first time this season with their 10th win in a row and the side that lost a play-off match last season in Mids 2 West South are now clear favourites to go on and win this division.
Leek had the distinct disadvantage of not having played a competitive match since December 15th and with skipper Tom Hine injured in the pre match warm up, the odds looked stacked against the St Edward’s outfit.
Tom Bourne started at tight head with Ed Cheadle and jason Milner completing the front row.
With Luke Hardern injured, Ed Harrison started at lock with Tom Sims. Andy McFadden, Ad Nettel and Naz Narawa were in the back row.
Dan Needham and Gary McDermott were at half back with Shane Dicker and Sam Hunt at centre. Nick Palmer and Ad Smith were on the wings with Dan Smith at full back.
Jake Green and Luke Staton, both long term injured players, not having played at all this season, both were on the bench and Charlie Futcher was called up as the front row replacement on the day.
The lack of a competitive match did not stop Leek from starting much better than their visitors as Leek’s forwards shot out of the blocks and made great yardage with good rucking and retention of the ball allowing the backs to probe the Sills defence.
On 4 minutes, a penalty for offside in Sills 22 gave Sam Hunt the opportunity to get Leek on the scoreboard and he duly converted for Leek to lead 3-0.
On 8 minutes, Leek were going well again and McDermott kicked to the blind wing. Nick Palmer tackled the wing and Ad Nettel stole the ball. As the slow Sills forwards retreated, they were all offside and Hunt’s 2nd penalty converted to double Leek’s lead to 6-0.
Still Leek were pressing and on 13 minutes were deep in the Sills 22 but were penalised for holding on.
5 minutes later and Sam Hunt had a long range attempt for another penalty as Sills were penalised for going down in the ruck, but the shot fell just short.
Finally as the first quarter ended, Sills had the ball and retained well as the forwards ground out a good position. On 25 minutes, Leek were penalised for off the feet in the ruck and the Sills fly half kicked for the corner. The lineout was won and Sills forwards rucked to the line, but the heroic Leek defence wouldn’t let their bigger opponents over the line. The ball was spun wide and Shane Dicker knocked on as he tackled the centre some 10 metres from Leek’s line. Sills scrum saw them try to run blind, but Dan Needham intercepted, but then Leek knocked on. The incessant pressure now in Leek’s 22 had gone on for 10 minutes, but from the ensuing scrum, Ad Nettel stole the ball on the ground and quick thinking from Dan Needham set Dan Smith off on a sprint the length of the field. He wasn’t caught until he was in the right hand corner 5 metres from the Sills line. Great back up by Ad Smith kept the ball alive for Leek and a couple of rucks later, the Sills defence was stretched and a long pass from McDermott was taken on the bounce by Ad Nettel who shrugged off 2 tackles to score in the right corner.
Sam Hunt’s conversion missed but on 35 minutes, Leek had extended their lead to 11-0 after some brave defence and then sprint out by Dan Smith.
Sills didn’t panic and on 39 minutes won a penalty which saw them kick again for the Leek corner. The lineout win was again defended by Leek and following the ruck reposte the ball was spun wide where the elusive full back finally broke the Lee line for a try in the left corner. The conversion missed and with the kick off coming as the final play, Leek could still go into halftime with an 11-5 lead.
Unfortunately, no-one told Sills they couldn’t hit back again and a length of the field run from the kick off with a missed tackle down the left flank saw the full back and left wing create the space for the Sills flanker to score easily. The conversion was missed, but Leek had been sucker punched with 2 tries in injury time at the end of the half to leave them with a 1 point lead at 11-10.
What a half of rugby as first Leek then Sills dominated, but what would have in stanza 2. Well 4 minutes into the half and Sills were on top as they looked to consolidate their grip on the game from the end of the first half. Leek were penalised for handling in the ruck and the simple penalty on the Leek 22 gave the visitors the lead for the first time at 11-13.
Luke Staton came on at No8 for his first action for a year.
Sills continued to press now as they dominated possession and the alert half backs were breaking the gain line and setting up the forwards for the drive into the heart of Leek’s defence.
On 49 minutes, Leek’s scrum held the first push , but from the pick-up Leek was penalised for handling in the ruck and Sills opted to scrum again on Leek’s 5 metre line. Still Leek held on as Dan Needham kicked through after the Sills back row lost control. Another scrum for Sills still couldn’t break the brave Leek defence and the ball was spun wide where still the defence held out but had to concede another 5 metre scrum, this time in centre field. The No8 picked up and swift passing saw the right wing break Nick Palmer’s tackle for a try in the right corner. The conversion was superb and Sills had broken away from leek at 11-20.
Could the Moorlanders come back? They were rocking, but still had a tremendous resolve and they wouldn’t lie down. On 63 minutes, Nick Palmer made a break following a blindside foray and he was only stopped 10 meters from the Sills line, but knocked on as well. The Sills scrum was solid but the clearance kick still gave Leek a lineout just outside the Sills 22.
Jake Green came on at scrum half and from the lineout Leek’s loose forwards drove into the Sills 22. Sills were penalised for slowing the ball and Jake Green took a quick tap and jinked past 2 players to score a try. Sam Hunt’s conversion was important and he slotted the kick to bring Leek back to 18-20 with 15 minutes to go.
Still Sills were not done and they came back strongly at Leek as the half backs tried to pin Leek in their own half. Another penalty against Leek on 74 minutes saw them confidently kick for the corner. The catch and drive looked odds on to create a try but a superb tackle knocked the ball from hand and Leek had a defensive scrum. Unfortunately they couldn’t hold the powerful Sills scrum and as the ball squirted out at the back of the Leek scrum, the alert scrum half touched down for the Sills 4th try. The conversion was critical to Leek and fortunately for them, it went wide, so at 18-25 they were just holding onto a losing bonus point.
Leek’s kick off went awry and Sills had a scrum on half way as Leek continued to put themselves under pressure. The last few minutes saw the visitors frantically trying to score again and the pressure only finally was relieved as Leek’s defence again held out and forced a penalty for the home side. Jake Green ended the game by kicking the ball dead and Leek had salvaged the point they deserved against a very good side.
The whole Leek squad gave everything for the cause and this game should give them the confidence now to go on and fear no other side in the division.
With Wolverhampton, the top side before the day’s games, losing at bottom side Tamworth, Sills have taken a 4 point lead at the top. Moseley Oak beat Veseyans and Stafford lost at home to Old Salts, the 2 sides immediately above Leek.
Aston Old Eds beat Bridgnorth and the Aston side visit Leek this Saturday in a re-arranged game.
Kick off is 2.15pm at St Edwards.
Watch out for the weather reports in case the game succumbs to the reported frozen spells this weekend.