Leek held their nerve to record the 3rd win of the season in a thoroughly entertaining game at Ester Chem Park on Saturday.
The day was marked by the presence of Debbie Jevans CBE, Chief Executive of England Rugby 2015 and Vice Chair Sport England. She unveiled the plaques with Karen Bradley MP to officially recognise the completion of two major projects at the club.
Leek has new main pitch drainage in place , thanks to a grant from Sport England and new main pitch floodlights, thanks to a grant from the RFU.
On hand also were Iain Hailey, Staffordshire RFU President, Richard Nadin, Staffordshire RFU Council Member and Leek mayor Keith Harrison and his wife Gill, along with county councillor Charlotte Atkins.
Before the game, a minute’s silence was observed to mark the passing of Leek rugby club stalwart, Fred Williamson. Fred was a player for Leek for many years and then an ardent supporter of the club all the rest of his life.
Leek had several changes to last week’s team that narrowly lost at Walsall.
Jake Green partnered skipper Gary McDermott at half back. Nick palmer came in at 12 with Sam Hunt at 13. Jack Newton Taylor was back on the left wing with James Floyd on the right wing and Phil Beard moving to full back.
Up front, Bobby Cheadle moved to hooker with Simon McNichol and Jason Milner at prop. Ed Harrison, installed as pack leader, was paired with Phil Tomczak at lock.
Luke Hardern started at No.8 for the first time with Luke Staton moving to the blind flank and Adam Nettel on the openside.
On the bench, Adam Smith, Ollie Drew and James Hall were all making welcome returns to the 1st team squad.
The game opened at a frantic pace with both sides trying to get a dominant position on the field but mostly sound defence prevented an early advantage until the 8th minute when at the first scrum, McDermott tried to prod the ball towards the touchline deep in Whitchurch’s 22. It went dead in goal, but from the drop out, Leek opened the scoring. The ball was fielded by Phil Tomczak, midway in the Whitchurch half. His quick pass fed Ed Harrison who weaved his way past a few defenders before passing inside to Luke Hardern who went under the posts unopposed. McDermott converted to hand Leek the lead at 7-0.
It got better on 16 minutes when McDermott converted a simple penalty under the posts for a not releasing in the tackle offense. 10-0.
3 minutes later and Whitchurch deservedly were back in the game with their first try after the No.8 made a telling run from a poor clearance kick and his pass to the prop saw the front rower charge over the line for a try by the posts. The conversion was good and Leek’s lead was pegged back to 10-7.
Both sides were playing the game at a high pace and showing good skills but defences were generally on top until the 30th minute when a long clearance from the Whitchurch fly half had the Leek defence scrabbling for the ball in their own 22. Dispossessed by the alert visitors’ backs, the ball was spun wide left and the wing went in for the Whitchurch 2nd try. The conversion missed but Whitchurch had taken the lead at 10-12.
The half ended with Leek on the attack but the whistle blew before there was time for a 5 metre line.
Half time – Leek 10 – 12 Whitchurch
The opening minute of the 2nd half saw Whitchurch with a penalty attempt from 45 metres following a ruck offence, but the ball fell short of the posts.
On 48 minutes, Leek’s patient driving in the Whitchurch 22 saw them win a 5 metre line. From the ensuing rucks, leek won a penalty for not releasing and McDermott slotted the simple goal to hand a slender lead back to Leek at 13-12.
From the kick off, Leek gave away another penalty but the attempt missed. Leek came back strongly on 52 minutes with Harrison and Hardern on the charge but a knock on prevented a more dangerous position being set up. 4 minutes later and Leek were mauling superbly up to the Whitchurch 22, when it was hauled down. The advantage came to Leek but the backs let slip an interception and the Whitchurch fly half sprinted the length of the field despite the attentions of Floyd and Beard near the line. The conversion was missed, but what a blow that had been for Leek. 13-17.
Leek came back strongly again to their credit and on 62 minutes after relentless rucking by Leek’s loose forwards in the Whitchurch 22, the heroic defence conceded when Ed Harrison crashed over to score Leek’s 2nd try. McDermott’s conversion went in off the post to give Leek the lead back at 20-17.
6 minutes later and Leek won another penalty on Whitchurch’s 22 for offside at the ruck and McDermott extended the lead to 23-17, although it was still precarious given the nature of the game thus far.
Sure enough with 82 minutes on the clock Leek was penalised at the scrum and Whitchurch kicked for a lineout on the Moorlanders 22. After a bout of rucking, the Whitchurch forwards set up a maul and was marching towards the Leek 5 metre line as the Leek forwards tried to hold the drive when the referee adjudged the maul had stopped twice and became disengaged and handed Leek a scrum on which the game ended.
It had been a tremendously competitive match and played in a great spirit but Leek had just prevailed and moved up to 7th place in the table.
Man of the match for Leek was Luke Hardern, celebrating his inclusion into the British Police Rugby squad with a fantastic display at No.8.