On a clear, windy day with some wetness underfoot, the players stood for a minute’s silence as they remembered a Walsall official who had recently passed away.
The game got off to a good start for Leek as they won a 1st minute scrum against the head and then had a penalty lineout on Walsall’s 5 metre line but failed to win it.
4 minutes in and Walsall landed the first points with a penalty for offside. 3-0.
From the kick off though, Leek won the ball and following some great continuity and a Sam Hunt ruck in midfield allowed the ball to be passed wide where skipper Gary McDermott went over for a try. His conversion was good and Leek had responded well. 3-7.
On 12 minutes, Leek were pressing again and looked to have scored another try after a kick through bounced up in front of the Walsall full back who was desperately looking to touch the ball down for a 22. He looked to have missed it and Rob McDermott touched down, but the referee adjudged the Walsall player had got a finger to it first.
On 16 minutes, Walsall won a penalty for a collapsed scrum and opted for the lineout on Leek’s 5 metre line.
A catch and drive, initially held up by Leek, eventually saw Walsall’s pack drive over for a try. The conversion was good and the hosts retook the lead at 10-7
3 minutes later and Leek was further behind when Walsall’s skipper and flanker took an inside pass after Leek’s ruck was turned over in midfield. The conversion was good and Walsall had opened a good lead at 17-7.
Back came Leek on 23 minutes, up the slope and against the wind when Rob McDermott fielded a clearance kick. Retention left and then right, tied in the defence and Gary McDermott popped up again on the right wing for his 2nd try after great hands from Phil Beard and James Floyd exposed the gap. The conversion missed and the score moved up to 17-12.
On 27 minutes, Walsall were again pressing in Leek’s 22 and a neat drop goal from the fly half increased the lead to 20-12.
Same again on 35 minutes, as the fly half dropped his 2nd goal following good pressure and Leek were finding it hard at this time to get good possession. 23-12.
This changed on 37 minutes when James Floyd found himself the architect of a maul outside the Walsall 22. Great control and patience saw the Leek pack drive over the Walsall line under the posts for Ed Harrison to score Leek’s 3rd try. McDermott converted and at 23-19, Leek could be well pleased with the score as the elements would favour them in the 2nd half.
On 48 minutes, Leek was penalised inside Walsall’s half and they opted for the lineout on half way. A good ruck then allowed the right wing to dance his way round 4 tackles before scoring a great individual try. The conversion was good and at 30-19, Leek needed some inspiration.
Sam Hunt provided that on 52 minutes with a great break to the Walsall 5 metre line and it looked like Leek must score, but as the ball appeared from the ruck, there was a knock on. Leek held Walsall in the 22 though and won a penalty for holding on a minute later. McDermott kicked the penalty to reduce the lead to 30-22.
Leek now upped their game. Jake Green had come on at scrum half and his quick break from a penalty on half way on 55 minutes allowed Rob McDermott to take a pass and then set James Floyd a task to beat a couple of players. The wing did his job well and touched down for Leek’s 4th and try winning bonus point. McDermott’s conversion went in off the post and at 30-29, it was anybody’s game now.
On 67 minutes, Leek won another penalty for holding on in the tackle and McDermott’s low kick sailed through the posts to give the Moorlanders the lead for the first time since the 6th minute at 30-32. Could they hang on?
Walsall came back strongly and on 74 minutes, it looked like they would score a try but didn’t trust the passing game and instead won a penalty for offside. The Walsall centre duly kicked the goal to hand Walsall the lead again at 33-32.
Leek had the chance to sneak it in the last 4 minutes, winning a 5 metre scrum which they couldn’t control and then a lineout 10 metres from the Walsall line which was lost and in the end Walsall kicked the ball dead to end the game.
It had been a very entertaining 80 minutes with the sides evenly matched and although Leek went down, there was no doubting the improvement in the away performance.
The return of Adam Nettel for his first game of the season saw the flanker getting near his best. Simon McNichol at loose head is showing promise as is Phil Tomszak, starting at lock for the first time.
Leek moved up a place to 8th as next week’s visitors to Leek, Whitchurch dropped to 9th having also lost a 1 point game to Kenilworth on Saturday. Newport continues to blaze the trail with 5 wins from 5 games.
This Saturday is an important day for Leek as Debbie Jevans, Chief Executive of England Rugby 2015, visits Ester Chem Park. She will unveil a plaque to officially open the main pitch drainage project completed over the summer and funded by Sport England of which she is also vice chair.
Local MP, Karen Bradley will also be at Leek unveiling a 2nd plaque to officially open Leek’s new floodlights, funded by the RFU.
Several Staffordshire RU officials are attending as well as mayor Keith Harrison and councillor Charlotte Atkins.
The unveiling will take place outside the clubhouse at around 2.30pm.
It is also Ladies day at the club and everyone is welcome to enjoy the buffet before the game.
Kick-off is at 3pm.