Yes, it was three nil, but the game was anything but a defensive midfield battle with both sides running the ball well and trying to get into range to score, but with both defences in superb form, it made for an increasingly tense game as it became obvious that points were going to be at a premium.
It was a great game of rugby against 2 closely matched sides. Bridgnorth were coming off the back of a phenomenal Midlands intermediate Cup semi Final win at previously unbeaten Leighton Buzzard and Leek had come off the back of their first Saturday without a game as their Midlands Intermediate Semi Final was postponed at Newbold last week.
Leek had an injury problem with Liam McDermott. The distributive inside back has been suffering for a couple of weeks with a back injury and he was rested, which gave Nick Palmer and Sam Hunt the chance to forge a centre partnership. Ian Harris and Gary McDermott were at half back and Jack Newton Taylor, James Floyd and Dan Smith made up the back 3.
In the pack, Leek had Jayson Milner, Luke Granger and Bobby Cheadle in the front row with Ed Harrison and Tom Sims at lock. Ad Nettel, looking fitter by the week was on the openside flank and Luke Staton and Andy McFadden were in the back row with him.
Luke Hardern was back from his red card and was on the bench with returning Naz Narawa, back from his broken nose, sustained at Moseley Oak, in December. Joining them on the bench was first timer, 20 year old Simon McNicol, a product of Leek's youth and junior set up.
Leek won the toss and elected to play against the fairly strong wind first half with the underfoot conditions soft but thankfully with the rain holding off for the whole game.
Leek started brightly and from good possession won a penalty 40 metres out in front of the Bridgnorth posts but Gary McDermott's strike was short. 9 minutes later and Bridgnorth won a penalty for offside but Will Biddel's attempt went agonisgly wide for the visitors. Little did either side know that precious attempts like this would seal the fate of the game and the first half played out with Leek probably having the better of the half and one chance to score.
This was on 18 minutes with a well won lineout, the Leek forwards drove for 30 metres to Bridgnorth's 5 metre line before the visitors were penalised for bringing the maul down. Leek's decision to go for the lineout proved a poor one as Bridgnorth's pack won the ball and cleared.
Bridgnorth lost their replacement lock on 23 minutes for foul play, but Leek couldn't make it pay for all their possession and although the Moorlanders enjoyed possession and territory, the tenacious Shropshire side wouldn't let the home side get on top of them and defended stoutly with an occasional foray into the Leek 22.
The half ended at nil all and by now, both sides realised that may be only one score would determine this game.
The 2nd half opened with the introduction of lock Luke Hardern to the fray for Leek and as the wind gathered in Leek's favour, the home side tried to use the wind to good effect and pinned Bridgnorth in their own 22.
On 43 minutes, Gary McDermott missed a 45 metre penalty attempt in front of the post as Bridgnorth's wing was penalised for in at the side and then 3 minutes later, another penalty for Leek for slowing the ball at the ruck produced the decisive moment of the game.
The Leek penalty was on the 5 metre line about 30 metres out, ironically in the same spot as the away penalty that Gary McDermott kicked to win the game at Bridgnorth in November. The skipper struck the ball well and it sailed through the posts to register the first points of the game and hand Leek a 3-0 lead.
This score lifted Bridgnorth and they enjoyed their best spell of the game as Leek were penalised and 2 penalties later, a Bridgnorth lineout on Leek's 5 metre line looked likely to produce some points for the visitors but Leek repulsed the drive and won a penalty to clear on 53 minutes.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes, it looked like the 3 points was going to be enough, but the game had a few twists yet.
On 73 minutes, another Leek penalty from 45 metres for slowing the ball at the ruck saw McDermott's kick go close but not straight enough and from the resulting 22 drop out, Leek kept the pressure on with a charge down and won a scrum for a knock on. However, Bridgnorth's pack were not to be denied and won the ball against the head and their scrum half, who was a live wore all game led the All Blacks up field to safety.
With the game now at 78 minutes old, the real drama was still to be played out. Bridgnorth won a penalty for not moving away from the ruck and Naz Narawa was yellow carded as the Bridgnorth full back kicked for the lineout in the Leek corner. Leek defended the line well and as the ball sped out, Nick Palmer anticipated the move but palmed the ball forward unable to make a clean effort to catch the ball. The penalty was given and Palmer was yellow carded for the deliberate knock on. Bridgnorth were 15 metres from Leek's line and an easy penalty kick was available to them, but the decision was taken to scrum the 13 man Leek side and go for the win.
The ball came out of the scrum and moved right. Leek's 2 defenders made 2 tackles but the extra man was there. A forward pass ensued as the Bridgnorth wing went over and touched down but the referee came back for offside at the scrum. With 50 seconds left, again Bridgnorth opted to scrum under Leek's posts and 5 metres out.
Leek held the Bridgnorth drive as they put 8 men in and as the ball came out, great harassment by Ian Harris then contrived a knock on in the centre. Leek's scrum held tight for the last play and Luke Staton touched down in goal to end the game and frustrate the visitors.
It had been a dramatic final few minutes in which 2 strong teams had fought out a great battle. Bridgnorth could have drawn the game with 3 points, but the desire and need to win allowed the Leek team to foil the last couple of plays and the Moorlanders won another nail biter at Esterchem park.
Both sides can take great pride in the way this game was played and refereed. It was a tribute to both sides that the conditions didn't stop a flowing, positive game from developing.
Only one other game was played today with Crewe and Nantwich beating Camp Hill and winning a bonus point to close further on Leek.
This week, Leek travels to Camp Hill, kick off 2.25pm, before the February 22nd clash at Newbold in their Intermediate Cup semi final