As usual, the elements and sloping pitch played their part in a fast and open game which saw both sides attacking from all over the park and provided the spectators with a thrilling game in the chill wind and drizzle.
Leek had Ed Cheadle back at hooker and jason Milner at loose head combining with skipper Tom Hine in the front row. Tom Sims was partnered by Luke Staton at lock and returning Ad Nettel took his place at No8 with Simon Drew and Andy McFadden on the flanks.
Dan Needham and Gary McDermott were at half back. Shane Dicker returned at 12 with Sam Hunt at outside. George Hunt and Nick palmer were on the wings and Jake Green was at full back.
Ed Harrison, Jamie Gordon and Jack Newton Taylor were on the bench.
Leek kicked off playing down the slope but against a strong wind and it was difficult to tell at that moment which of the natural elements would play the bigger part in the game. In hindsight, it proved to be the wind, so Leek’s decision to play against the wind meant they would naturally play a keep ball game and not allow Spartans to kick behind them.
Leek started stronger and on 9 minutes Nick Palmer was nearly in for the opening score in the right corner but for a forward pass after good work by Shane Dicker saw the big centre bursting through tackles as Leek’s forwards drove close to the rucks.
However, it was Spartans who were on the score sheet first when, from their first meaningful attack, they drove hard down the right side to outside the Leek 22 and having sucked in the defence, the ball was passed wide left where the overlap saw the centre score unopposed. The conversion slipped by the post but Spartans had an early 5-0 lead.
This spurred the Spartans and they looked dangerous in the next 7 minutes with a drive into the Leek 22. It looked like a Leek forward had stolen the ball but then a penalty was awarded to Spartans for sealing off and the fly half duly despatched the simple kick through the posts to extend the home side lead to 8-0.
Ad Nettel suffered a groin injury and Ed Harrison came on at lock as Luke Staton reverted to No8 and from the restart Ed won the ball back. Strong driving by the backs saw Leek on the line with Shane Dicker but he couldn’t get the ball down and was penalised for not releasing, having been tackled.
On 35 minutes, Leek won a penalty for not releasing in the tackle and then back chat gave the Moorlanders another 10 metres. Jake Green stepped up to land the 3 points to reduce the lead to 8-3, but in doing so he injured his ribs and Jack Taylor came on at full back.
From this kick off, Leek’s catch was well met by the Spartans forwards who turned their man and in not releasing gave the Spartans out half another chance to add 3 points. He converted and at 11-3, the home side were looking to press home the advantage before half time and although they ended the half with all the pressure, Leek’s defence held firm and at 11-3, there was everything to play for in the 2nd half.
The cohort of Leek supporters could hear their team’s coach Ian Gittens extoling the virtue of the impending wind advantage and pressing home the need for patience in their build up play and this was amply demonstrated on 46 minutes as Leek pressure built up deep inside the Spartans 22.. It led to a penalty on the 5 metre line and further strong rucking engaged the Spartans pack allowing the ball finally to move wide right where Shane Dicker crashed over in the tackle to score Leek’s first try. Sam Hunt’s conversion went wide but at 11-8, Leek had started the 2nd half just as the coach would have wanted and they now needed to up their game to take control. This they did and on 54 minutes, Leek’s forwards moved inexorably towards the Spartan line with a wave of rucks that finally saw veteran Jason Milner dart over for the 2nd try. This time Sam Hunt converted and Leek had taken the lead a 15-11 lead.
Time now for a Spartans come back as the home support got behind their team and the driving forward wrestled possession away from Leek and then the Spartan backs penetrated the line. On 68 minutes, Leek were near their own line and trying to stop a dangerous position when under their own posts. A penalty was awarded for dropping the maul and the Spartans skipper had a decision to make about taking the 3 points or going for the try. He elected for the former and the fly half duly converted to reduce Leek’s lead to the slenderest of margins at 15-14.
Back came Leek and on 70 minutes, they were awarded a penalty on the Spartans 22 in front of the posts, but Dan Needham took a quick tap and tried to go for the score. Good rucking saw the ball retained but Spartans defended well before Leek won another penalty for offside. This time, skipper Tom Hine stepped in to direct Sam Hunt to shoot for goal. The centre obliged, just, as the ball crept over the bar and Leek edged to a 4 point gap at 18-14.
Spartans were not going to lie down and they attacked ferociously during the next 10 minutes as they set up scrum and lineout deep in Leek’s 22. However, they couldn’t quite manage to control the ball long enough to make the telling move and eventually Leek cleared their lines with a penalty.
As the game entered the 85th minute, Leek broke out of their half and Dan Needham and Nick Palmer found themselves 2 on 2 with the defence on the left side. It looked like the break had stopped as the ball went to ground but a neat chip from Leek’s scrum half bounced up 10 metres from the Spartans line. Dan Needham caught it, rounded one defender and won the race with the full back for the left corner to dot the ball down as he struck the flag. The referee awarded the try and Sam Hunt’s conversion unluckily bounced off the bar but the full time whistle blew and Leek had denied the home side a bonus point at the death with a 23-14 win.
It ended a highly competitive game and both sides deserve credit for producing an exciting affair despite the wind and rain.
In other games, Silhillians long winning streak was dashed at Wolverhampton and Moseley Oak’s win against Aston OE keeps both the title and play off places up for grabs. Leek cannot now catch any of the top 3 teams and will be content with 4th place no matter what happens in the final league encounter this season which is at St Edwards next Saturday against Tamworth. Indeed Tamworth’s loss at Veseyans this week sets up an intriguing finale at the foot of the table with Vs at home to Old Salts next week in a must win game and Tamworth needing one win from their remaining 2 games at Leek this week or at home against Spartans in 2 weeks to retain their status.
Don’t forget that this Saturday, April 20th, is the club’s Beer Festival. It actually starts on the Friday evening at 7pm. The club will be open from 1pm on Saturday with a buffet before the game and live music from 6.30pm as the club celebrates the end of another season and the 90th anniversary of its formation on May 4th 1923.
Please come and join in with some great beers on tap and plenty of rugby to watch and reminisce about.
Author John McDermott