With the match hanging in the balance all game down to a last dramatic twist for the enthusiastic crowd to applaud both sides for a highly entertaining match.
Leek had 7 personnel changes and another 3 positional changes to contend with as they undertook the longest trip of their league season to a club that has lost only once this season.
Dan Needham started at half back with skipper Gary McDermott. Sam Hunt moved to 12 with Nick Palmer at centre. Ollie Drew was drafted onto the left wing and Jake Green onto the right wing with Jack Newton Taylor moving to full back.
Simon McNicol was back in the front row with Bobby Cheadle and John Brookes. Tom Sims was back after a lengthy injury and partnered Phil Tomczak at lock. Ed Harrison moved to No.8 with Andy McFadden on the blindside and returning Simon Drew to the open side, a player who hasn’t started for over 12 months in the first team shirt.
The bench saw brothers Adam and Ben Smith with debut making James Thompson.
Leek kicked off up the slope and with the low sun in their eyes and it took Hereford just over the first minute to register the opening score. An early lineout 30 metres from the Leek line led to a maul reaching the 22 and a simple blind side passing move and poor tackling allowed the flanker to score. The Hereford fly half converted and at 7-0 with 2 minutes on the clock, Leek was facing a tough afternoon.
However, if the travelling Leek supporters thought the day may turn dark, they were to be mistaken as the Leek forwards got into gear and bludgeoned their way up field on 7 minutes with an excellent maul. Hereford was penalised for coming in at the side and Needham kicked for the 5 metre lineout. A catch and drive and then a couple of rucks later, the Hereford defence was powerless to stop Ed Harrison crashing over near the posts. McDermott converted and Leek had quickly got back on level terms at 7 all.
On 12 minutes, a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Jack Newton Taylor led to a series of more penalties for Leek as Hereford became undisciplined and although the defence held up another Leek maul close to the line on 17 minutes, Sam Hunt made a superb break into the line on 23 minutes and reached the Hereford 5 metre line before a tackle brought him to ground. The forwards set up another maul and Andy McFadden went over for a try near the posts. McDermott converted again and Leek had a deserved 7-14 lead.
From the kick off, Leek failed to look after the ball and Hereford won a penalty for offside on Leek’s 22. The simple kick had Hereford back to 10-14.
On 29 minutes, Leek had a kickable penalty for offside but Dan Needham took a quick tap and although the move looked dangerous, it didn’t convert to any points before on 34 minutes another Hereford penalty for in at side of ruck was missed by the fly half.
On 37 minutes though, the fly half duly converted a penalty as Leek were guilty of not rolling away from the tackle and at 13-14, the momentum was turning against Leek.
Dan Needham though made a great kick to the Hereford 5 metre line to end the half with the Moorlanders holding a slender lead and the slope to help in the 2nd half.
Leek started the half as they did the first and allowed Hereford easy points in front of the posts for slowing the ball which had Simon Drew shown the yellow card for. The fly half duly converted. 16-14.
James Thompson came on for his debut with Ben Smith moving to 12, but on 47 minutes, the Hereford 10 missed another penalty for not releasing and the pressure was mounting on Leek.
5 minutes later and Hereford converted that pressure into a converted try as Leek were penalised again. The kick to the Leek 5 metre line resulted in the home forwards with a good catch and drive crossing the Leek line. The conversion was good and at 23-14, Hereford looked to be stretching away.
However, Leek hit back and a clever jink and kick ahead by Jake Green had the home defence scrambling to concede a 5 metre scrum to Leek. The defence held the drive but was penalised for off feet at the ruck and McDermott added 3 points for Leek to reduce the lead to 23-17.
Leek kept the pressure up and on 65 minutes were mauling to the Hereford line again but the home defence held. From the scrum a great break out nearly led to a length of the field try but for a great tackle from Nick Palmer. On 69 minutes, another penalty had Hereford catching and driving on Leek’s 5 metre line. As the defence was sucked in, quick ball right looked set to produce a try but a fantastically timed tackle by Jack Newton Taylor not only caught man and ball but won the ball outright for Leek to lift the siege on 71 minutes.
With one score in it, both sides continued to press and on 80 minutes, Leek had a scrum centre field on Hereford’s 22. Ed Harrison picked up at the back but the Hereford flanker intercepted his pass to Dan Needham and he sprinted up field. With support from the centre, he went over for a killer try. The conversion was easy and at 30-17, it looked all over for Leek as the referee indicated last play from the restart.
The next 4 minutes were therefore unusual in that Hereford wanted to keep the ball alive and go for the 4th try and Leek wanted the same to earn the losing bonus point. Each side traded penalties before Dan Needham found himself on the ball outside the Hereford 22. He sprinted towards the line, was tackled but had the presence of mind to find the impressive James Thompson who made the line but was also tackled. Quick ball left and Nick Palmer went over for Leek’s 3rd try.
It needed Gary McDermott to add the 2 points from the left 15 metre line to secure the point and he duly delivered as the full time whistle went.
It had been a hard fought battle and the points could have gone either way and credit both sides for their attacking mentality.
Leek’s 18 man squad had put a real shift in and it is all due credit to the players and coaches that they could compete with such a strong team in this league.
There is a week’s rest now before the league resumes on December 6th with Leek welcoming Kenilworth to EsterChem park.
In other games, Newport won at Earlsdon, Stoke lost at Berkswell and Balsall, Worcester Wanderers had a big win against Kenilworth and Crewe beat Silhillians in a game that produced 100 points. Whitchurch edged Walsall and Stratford won well at Barkers Butts.
Leek slipped to 7th as Crewe leapfrogged both Leek and Stoke to 5th