Midlands West 1
Birkswell & Balsall 15
Leek ended a run of 8 straight league defeats with a hard fought win at Berkswell & Balsall (B&B), completing the double over their hosts and collecting a well-earned try bonus point as well.
It has been a frustrating time for everyone connected with the club but there is a strong desire to continue to compete in this league and the players and coaches are to be congratulated on their commitment to the cause.
John Brooks, Bobby Cheadle and Jason Milner started in the front row with Tom Sims and Luke Hardern at lock. Luke Staton was at No.8 with Luke Granger and Simon Drew on the flanks.
Ollie Drew and skipper Gary McDermott were at half back. Liam McDermott and Nick Palmer were in the centre and Jack Newton Taylor, George Hunt and Sam Hunt made up the back 3.
The bench looked strong with Simon Mcnicol, Rob McDermott and Ed Harrison.
Leek lost the toss and were made to kick down field with a strong wind at their backs and a low sun behind them as B&B invited the Moorlanders to take advantage of the conditions first half. It took 5 minutes for B&B to force the opening points when they won a penalty under the Leek posts for not releasing in the tackle and the B&B 10 made no mistake to open the scoring at 3-0.
Leek needed something quickly and from the kick off B&B knocked on near their own 22. Leek’s scrum was solid and after some good pressure Gary McDermott glided through a couple of would be tackles to score his 5th try in as many games by the posts. He converted as well to give Leek the lead at 3-7.
6 minutes later and Luke Staton won a lineout on Leek’s own 10 metre line. Liam McDermott hit the line to set up a quick ruck and then a quick pass from Ollie Drew to Jack Taylor had the wing sprinting outside his man into the B&B half. An intelligent pass inside found the young scrum half Ollie Drew supporting and his pace took him away from the full back to score near the left corner. A great score. The conversion missed but at 3-12, Leek was beginning to build the score they would need to defend the elements in the 2nd half.
Time then for B&B to up their game and first deprive Leek of the ball before winning a lineout about 25 metres from the Leek line and then mauling patiently all the way over the line for a good try. The conversion missed but Leek’s disappointment wasn’t over as Luke Hardern was yellow carded for dissent. 8-12 on 22 minutes.
Gary McDermott missed a long range penalty on 25 minutes for an offside decision at the ruck and then 4 minutes later Leek’s pack was mauling to the B&B line but were thwarted illegally as B&B’s captain was warned about persistent infringements. Leek went for the lineout on the 5 metre line, lost it and B&B cleared the danger.
On 33 minutes, Leek lost the ball in a promising position and the B&B left wing sprinted up the line and looked likely to score until Sam Hunt pulled off a great tackle and the line cleared. Luke Hardern returned and Leek needed to reassert but B&B’s pack turned Leek’s scrum and having won their own ball the home backs had a run with the full back in the line. A missed tackle allowed a simple run in for the centre and the conversion added to Leek’s woes as B&B took the lead at 15-12 on 37 minutes.
Leek needed a quick response before half time and it happened. From the kick off, Leek pressed hard and forced a turnover in the B&B 22. Leek then retained the ball through a couple of maul phases and Gary McDermott switched play blind. Finding Jack Taylor again, the youngster rounded 2 defenders and scored in the left corner. McDermott’s conversion was good as Leek retook the lead at 15-19.
The first half had a lot of added time and 5 minutes into it, Leek were running the ball from their own 22. As they crossed half way a ruck formed and B&B was penalised for in at the side. Gary McDermott converted a long range penalty to end the half with the Moorlanders holding a 15-22 lead, but was it to be enough?
Enter Ed Harrison at lock and Rob McDermott at full back and amazingly Leek kept a 2nd half clean sheet despite the advantages of wind and slope to aid the home side.
Firstly Ed Harrison engaged the B&B defence and Rob McDermott ran hard and straight causing Leek to get up to the B&B 5 metre line in its first attack of the half. Then the ball was lost and the long clearance to Leek’s half showed the problem the Moorlanders would face if they didn’t hold on to it.
On 47 minutes B&B had a penalty from a scrum as Leek wheeled but the attempt went wide. From the 22, Leek engaged the receiver and turned the ball over. Rob McDermott made another break getting over half way. After being tackled his pass to Luke Granger had the flanker in support. A pass to Jack Taylor and then his superb pass to Ollie Drew saw the scrum half sprint up the left wing and touch down in the left corner for a stunning try. The conversion missed but Leek had achieved their first objective with their 4th try of the game and a bonus point. 15-27.
The game then deteriorated slightly as B&B became frustrated with the situation and it resulted in a yellow on 57 minutes for the flanker for a late tackle and 5 minutes later a high tackle after the clearance resulted in a 2nd yellow. Despite this, B&B were pressing but Leek’s defence held firm and when Leek broke they looked dangerous. As the game entered the final 10 minutes, Leek held their line and was epitomised by a superb tackle from Luke Hardern on 77 minutes as B&B tried to run out of their 22.
With the game in overtime, the referee did well not to bin anyone as tempers frayed with Leek defending their line tenaciously as B&B threw everything into one score to get them a point. It wasn’t to be and the whistle blew with B&B knocking on.
It had been a highly entertaining game with both sets of players committed with Leek deservedly taking the honours.
Leek’s win hoisted their points tally to 41 and they remain in 10th place, 5 points behind Whitchurch and 14 ahead of Silihillians in 11th.
Most sides have 6 games to go but Leek has one more, against Barkers Butts, after the earlier game was postponed a couple of weeks ago. It is to be played at EsterChem Park on Saturday, March 14th.
In other games, Newport won at Barkers Butts, Walsall beat Stoke, Hereford won at Earlsdon and Silhillians won at Whitchurch.
Worcester beat Stratford and Kenilworth lost at Crewe.
Crewe are the next visitors to Esterchem Park this Saturday. Kick-off is at 2.15pm. This is usually a well-supported local derby. Get to the club early and enjoy the pre match banter, food and drink.
The 6 Nations resumes as well with Scotland v Italy kicking off at 2.30pm and then after the Leek Crewe game, it will be France v Wales at 5pm on the big screen at the club.
Come down to the club and experience a great atmosphere as the season enters the final few games.
On Sunday, 1st March, England takes on Ireland in Dublin in what is potentially a grand slam decider. Both sides are the only undefeated sides left in this year’s 6 Nations Championship.
Kick-off is at 3.00pm. Come and watch the action at the club.