Leek’s run of 3 home defeats was expunged Saturday as the Moorlanders hung on to the coat tails of the Cheshire men and in the last 15 minutes clawed their way to a position from which they took the game in the dying embers of the match.
The Moorlanders fielded 4 sets of brothers in their squad of 18 for this vital league match against Crewe and Nantwich (C&N) and has to be some sort of record in a league match as they all played their part in a great match up, pitching the big, strong C&N forwards against the smaller, harrying home pack with the backs on both sides showing pace and some guile.
Jack Newton Taylor moved to full back with Sam Hunt switching to left wing and brother George on the right wing.
Ollie Drew and Gary McDermott were at half back and Liam McDermott and Nick Palmer were in the centre.
John Brooks, Bobby Cheadle and Jason Milner were in the front row and Ed Harrison and Tom Sims at lock. Luke Hardern was at No.8 with Simon Drew and Andy McFadden on the flanks.
Ed Cheadle, Simon McNicol and Dan Sharratt were on the bench.
The pitch was in great condition for the time of the year and as C&N kicked off and reclaimed the ball, the intention was set from the start as the visitors then won a penalty for not rolling away and kicked for the lineout 10 metres from Leek’s line.
Leek repelled this early pressure, winning a penalty to clear.
On 7 minutes, Leek was penalised again for not rolling away at the tackle on their own 22 and the C&N full back opened the scoring. 0-3.
3 minutes later, Leek had a penalty for the same offence and McDermott kicked for the line on C&N’s 22. The ruck followed and C&N was offside. McDermott elected to kick the simple enough penalty but his effort struck the left hand upright. Nick Palmer was following up and retained possession for the Moorlanders. Leek’s pack worked furiously to set up several rucks near the C&N line on the left before the ball was spun wide where Liam McDermott fed Jack Taylor who scored a good try. Gary McDermott made no mistake with the conversion and Leek led 7-3 on 12 minutes.
On 18 minutes, a C&N lineout on half way led to a ruck midfield and then quick hands blind and the C&N open side sprinted through several would be tackles to score a great try on the right. The conversion was good and C&N retook the lead at 7-10.
4 minutes later and the pressure mounted on Leek as their scrum was disrupted and the C&N No.8 picked up and set a quick ruck. Again, the scrum half went blind and the full back sprinted on to the pass to score C&N’s 2nd try. He couldn’t add the conversion but at 7-15, Leek needed inspiration. It came from Simon Drew who sprinted on to a loose lineout and set up a maul on the C&N 22 on 27 minutes, but Jason Milner was yellow carded for over robust mauling and C&N cleared.
2 minutes later and C&N increased their lead following a penalty for not rolling away and then gaining another 10 metres for not being 10 metres, making the kick simpler and the full back duly converted to increase the visitor’s lead to 7-18.
Still Leek were trying and deservedly won a penalty on 37 minutes for offside. McDermott slotted his first penalty to reduce the lead to 10-18 as Jason Milner came back on. McDermott had an added time penalty attempt for offside but his effort went wide as the half time whistle blew at 10-18.
Coach Ian Gittens earned his corn at half time as Leek came out of the blocks for the 2nd half, dominating the opening 5 minutes. They went close as C&N’s defence adjusted and twice Leek lost ball on turnovers. The latter one on 45 minutes allowed a clearance kick to find Sam Hunt on the C&N 10 metre on the right side. The makeshift winger turned into the attacking full back the home support knows well and he jinked past several would be tacklers before handing off the flanker as he scored a sensational try near the right corner. McDermott’s excellent conversion brought Leek to within a point at 17-18 and everything to play for.
Back came C&N and superb play from forwards and backs led to a great long pass from the scrum half which outflanked the Leek backs and led to the centre scoring in the right corner. The conversion was good and C&N extended the lead again to 17-25 on 48 minutes.
Leek came back and pressed hard but strong C&N defence led to a break out on 58 minutes as the full back sprinted down the left touch from his own 22. It looked all over a great try until man of the match, Jack Taylor came from another street to power tackle his opposite number into touch.
From this point, C&N turned the screw and twice they might have scored but for a knock on 5 metres from Leek’s line and an obstruction which prevented a certain score. Leek’s defence was nothing but brave and the team was just holding on as Nick Palmer was injured on 63 minutes. This meant young Dan Sharratt coming on to the right wing as Sam Hunt moved to centre.
Leek lifted the siege and won a penalty for a late tackle on Gary McDermott. The ball alighted over half way and Leek pinned C&N in their 22, but a turnover saw the visitors running out of defence. The referee then penalised the replacement forward for interfering with a potential tackler and was yellow carded on 68 minutes and so the game turned.
McDermott slotted the 35 metre kick to give Leek a lifeline at 20-25 and then Ed Cheadle came on in the 72nd minute. He won a turnover at the tackle on 74 minutes and quick hands saw the ball reach Dan Sharratt in his own 22. The pace of the young man surprised the C&N backs as he shot over the half way and put in a chip kick but the full back caught it and cleared directly to touch outside the 22.
5 minutes later with Leek urgently pressing now and C&N visibly defending a lead, a penalty was won for not releasing and McDermott kicked his 3rd penalty on 77 minutes with most supporters wondering why the decision wasn’t to go for the corner. Remember Bridgnorth last year! 23-25.
From the kick off, C&N pressed but a knock on gave Leek a scrum on their own 22. Ollie Drew ran blind and set Dan Sharratt off again. This time he got inside the C&N 22 with his blistering pace before the fullback tackled him into touch. It was getting desperate now as the visitors were back up to a full complement and the game entered added time. Leek had turned the tide but could they find a way to land the winning blow.
On 82 minutes, they won a ruck on half way and with adventure passed the ball right. George Hunt found himself outside the winger and faced with the full back. He chose to grubber kick the ball. The defence fumbled it and Ollie Drew backing up kicked it forward. Again the defence had a chance to collect but it was that man Sam Hunt again who gathered the ball 7 metres out and sprinted over for a try. Gary McDermott slotted his 3rd conversion from near the left touchline as Leek had dramatically overhauled their visitors to lead 30-25 with a couple of minutes to go.
The game ended over the C&N line with Leek pressing strongly now and only the prop’s touch down prevented a score as the whistle blew for full time.
It had been a remarkable come back and reminiscent of some of the performances last year and at last, this season, Leek had found some luck that had been missing in earlier games when just losing.
The game had been played at a furious pace and both sides had given everything but Leek prevailed to earn themselves 4 league points as C&N earned their losing bonus point too.
The win kept Leek in 10th spot and edging closer to safety with 6 games to go.
In other matches Newport reached 100 points for the season as they beat Birkswell & Balsall. Silhillians edged Barkers Butts and Worcester did the same at Hereford. Stoke lost to Whitchurch and Stratford beat Walsall.
Kenilworth suffered a big defeat at home to Earlsdon and Leek travels to the Coventry side this Saturday. Kick-off is at 3.00pm, now it’s March for all travelling support.
On Saturday, March 14th, Leek has a re-arranged fixture at EsterChem Park against Barkers Butts.
Kick-off is 3pm.
This is also 6 Nations Day.
Wales v Ireland at 2.30pm is followed by the Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham between England and Scotland. Kick off on the big screen at the club is at 5pm.
Food and drink available all afternoon from 1pm.
Come and support your teams at the club and enjoy the atmosphere of local and international rugby at its best.
Finally, pick up your order form at the club or from author, Bev Needham for the new book about the history of Leek Rugby Club. There’s a discount for early subscribers and a chance for your name to be included in the book. It’s a fascinating history with accurate archive material, photographs, anecdotes and much more.
The price is £20 for early subscribers with a £10 deposit and the book is due to be published in the next few months with a foreword from Leek stalwart, Air Vice Marshal Sir Michael Knight.