Lack of match practice for both teams and probably less than ideal training preparation over the last few weeks due to the weather made this game predictably a stop start affair with many handling errors and turnovers. In the end, Leek prevailed by 3 tries to 2, denied a bonus point in the dying minutes, but the coaches will be pleased to get back to winning ways with 8 games to go.
A minute's silence was observed just before the match commenced for Vic Hall, former Staffordshire President and Ray Johnston, former Leek player, who had both passed away recently.
Dan Smith had cried off on Friday due to a persistent leg injury and that meant a first start this season for Jake Green at full back. Dan Needham and Gary McDermott were at half back and Shane Dicker and Sam Hunt in the centres with Nick Palmer and Jack Newton Taylor on the wings.
Jamie Gordon had a call up at prop with skipper Tom Hine still injured and he accompanied Ed Cheadle and Jason Milner in the front row. Ed harrisoon and Tom Sims were at lock and the backrow looked strong with Ad Nettel, Andy McFadden and Luke Staton starting.
The first quarter of the match was particularly frustrating for players, coaches and spectators alike as the teams tried to get used to playing a real match again, but little continuity and plenty of mistakes made for a poor start. Then on 21 minutes, Leek were awarded a kickable penalty for offside and Sam Hunt duly converted from 35 metres to give Leek a 3-0 lead.
On 25 minutes, Leek won a lineout on the Vs 22, but were then penalised for holding on as Vs defended strongly. Then on 27 minutes, Dan Needham chipped the ball into the Vs 22 where the ball rolled towards the 5 metre line. The Vs left wing collected and decided to kick, but Gary McDermott was on hand to charge down the ball and as it went over the goal line, he touched down for a simple try. Sam Hunt converted and Leek was up to 10-0.
Vs hadn't really threatened the Leek 22, when on 31 minutes, the home side was penalised for offside at the maul. The kick for the lineout inside Leek's 22 was good and then the lineout catch by the prop at the back caught the home defence out and he sprinted in unopposed for a good try. The conversion was followed up and Vs were right back in the game at 10-7.
The final 10 minutes of the half saw Leek give away a series of penalties. Vs tried to capitalise on their maul and lineout work, but either poor final execution or good Leek defence kept the visitors at bay, but they had plenty of possession and threat to indicate this match was going to be close.
The old head of former Fijian international Zac Feanatu, directing the Vs forwards, meant Leek's pack would have to raise their game to stay competitive in the 2nd half.
Half time - Leek 10-7 Veseyans
Leek started the half giving away yet another penalty for a scrum offence and then Vs pack mauled 30 metres towards Leek's 22, but were then penalised for accidental offside. The resulting Leek scrum turned 90, so Vs had a put in. 2 rucks later and Vs looked threatening, but the centre dropped the ball and the alert Shane Dicker collected it and sprinted off up field. Evading a number of tackles he reached the half way line, drew the full back and passed inside to wing Nick Palmer who outsprinted the chasing defenders to score under the posts. Sam Hunt converted and Leek had hit Vs with a sucker punch to increase their lead to 17-7.
Charlie Futcher came on for Ed Cheadle at hooker
If Leek thought they were now going to run away with the game, they were brought down to earth on 48 minutes when they were penalised at the scrum again on their own 22. A quick penalty by Vs saw the flanker crash over for a try to reduce the Leek lead to 17-12 with the conversion floating wide.
Leek then upped their game and on 50 minutes Vs were caught offside and then Leek had a lineout on the Vs 22. The forwards won the ball and rucked to the Vs line, but the referee awarded the scrum to Vs as the ball was held up before the line. Leek turned the scrum and won their own scrum though. Leek patiently rucked closer to the line and then won a penalty for the flanker slowing the ball up. He was yellow carded as skipper Gary McDermott asked Jake Green to go for the penalty. He duly converted to move Leek to 20-12.
Back came Vs and on 59 minutes had moved menacingly into the Leek 22, but in a carbon copy of their last visit, the ball was turned over and Shane Dicker burst upfield and this time passed to Nick Palmer on the outside. He reached the Vs 22 but was crowded out into touch. Vs then controlled the ball until their flanker came back as Tom Bourne replaced Jamie Gordon in the front row and George Hunt came on for Jack Newton Taylor.
On 71 minutes, just outside the Vs 22, Leek won a scrum against the head and quick ball saw Leek break into the Vs 22 on the right. Good rucking moved the ball to within 10 metres of the line, then a stray kick through at the ruck looked to have cleared the immediate danger only for Gary McDermott to collect and feed inside to Jake Green who jinked his way over the line for Leek's 3rd try. He then converted his own try to move Leek to 27-12.
It gave Leek hope of a bonus point and George Hunt's effort on 77 minutes looked to have done the job but for a forward pass and despite a couple more attempts, notably from Nick Palmer, the Vs defence held out and were themselves trying to run the ball in an effort to get a losing point. In the end, neither happened and the game ended with a 27-12 win for Leek that pushed them up to 5th place in the league.
Stafford lost at Tamworth to confirm Tamworth's continuing revival and Moseley Oak won the battle with Wolverhampton in a close match. Silhillians confirmed their title ambitions with a big win at Bridgnorth and Saltleians won convincingly at Spartans.
With several games postponed over the last few weeks, Leek's immediate fixture list is as follows:
February 9th - away at Bridgnorth KO 2.15
February 16th - away at Saltleians KO 2.15
February 23rd - home to aston Old Eds KO 2.15
March 2nd - home to Wolverhampton KO 2.15