Midlands Two West (North)
Leek 3 Bridgnorth 0
NOT surprisingly in the conditions, these two sides produced the lowest-scoring match in the league this year, just as they did last year at Bridgnorth, when Leek won 9-3.
Though the game produced just three points, it was anything but a defensive midfield battle.
Both sides ran the ball well and tried to get into range to score, but the respective defences were in superb form and it made for an increasingly tense game, as it became obvious points were going to be at a premium.
It was a great game of rugby against two closely-matched sides. Bridgnorth arrived at Interchem Park in high spirits after their phenomenal Midlands Intermediate Cup semi-final win at previously-unbeaten Leighton Buzzard.
Their hosts, on the other hand, took to the pitch on the back of their first Saturday without a game due to their Midlands Intermediate semi-final at Newbold being postponed
Leek had an injury problem with Liam McDermott. The distributive inside back has been suffering for a couple of weeks with a back injury and he was rested, which gave Nick Palmer and Sam Hunt the chance to forge a centre partnership.
Ian Harris and Gary McDermott were at half back and Jack Newton Taylor, James Floyd and Dan Smith made up the back three.
In the pack, Leek had Jayson Milner, Luke Granger and Bobby Cheadle in the front row with Ed Harrison and Tom Sims at lock.
Ad Nettel, looking fitter by the week, was on the open side flank and Luke Staton and Andy McFadden were in the back row with him.
Luke Hardern was back from his red card and was on the bench with returning Naz Narawa, back from his broken nose, sustained at Moseley Oak in December.
Joining them on the bench was first timer 20-year-old Simon McNicol, a product of Leek's youth and junior set up.
Leek won the toss and elected to play against the fairly strong wind first half. Under-foot conditions were soft but thankfully the rain held off for the entire game.
Leek started brightly and from good possession won a penalty 40 metres out in front of the Bridgnorth posts but Gary McDermott's strike was short.
Nine minutes later, Bridgnorth won a penalty for offside but Will Biddel's attempt went agonisingly wide for the visitors.
Neither side were to know that precious attempts like this would seal the fate of the game and the first half played out with Leek probably having the better of thing, with one chance to score.
This was on 18 minutes, with a well won line-out. The Leek forwards drove for 30 metres to Bridgnorth's five-metre line before the visitors were penalised for bringing the maul down.
Leek's decision to go for the line-out proved a poor one as Bridgnorth's pack won the ball and cleared.
Bridgnorth lost their replacement lock on 23 minutes for foul play, but Leek couldn't make it pay for all their possession, and although the Moorlanders enjoyed possession and territory, the tenacious Shropshire side wouldn't let the home side get on top of them and defended stoutly, with an occasional foray into the Leek 22.
The half ended pointless and by now, both sides realised that maybe only one score would determine this game.
The second half opened with the introduction of lock Luke Hardern to the fray for Leek and as the wind gathered in the Moorlanders' favour, they tried to use the wind to good effect and pinned Bridgnorth in their own 22.
On 43 minutes, Gary McDermott missed a 45-metre penalty attempt in front of the post after Bridgnorth's wing was penalised for "in at the side".
Three minutes later, another penalty against Bridgnorth, for slowing the ball at the ruck, produced the decisive moment of the game.
The Leek penalty was on the five- metre line about 30 metres out, in the same spot as the away penalty that Gary McDermott kicked to win the game at Bridgnorth in November.
The skipper struck the ball well and it sailed through the posts to register the first points of the game and hand Leek a 3-0 lead.
This score lifted Bridgnorth and they enjoyed their best spell of the game, as Leek were penalised and two penalties later, a Bridgnorth lineout on Leek's five-metre line looked likely to produce some points for the visitors – but Leek repulsed the drive and won a penalty to clear on 53 minutes.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes, it looked like the three points was going to be enough, but the game had a few twists yet.
On 73 minutes, another Leek penalty from 45 metres for slowing the ball at the ruck saw McDermott's kick go close but not straight enough.
From the resulting 22 drop-out, Leek kept the pressure on with a charge down and won a scrum for a knock-on.
However, Bridgnorth's pack were not to be denied and won the ball against the head and their scrum half, who was a live wire all game led his team upfield to safety.
With the game now 78 minutes old, the real drama was still to be played out.
Bridgnorth won a penalty for not moving away from the ruck and Naz Narawa was yellow-carded as the Bridgnorth full back kicked for the line-out in the Leek corner.
Leek defended the line well and as the ball sped out, Nick Palmer anticipated the move but palmed the ball forward, unable to make a clean effort to catch the ball.
The penalty was given and Palmer was yellow-carded for the deliberate knock-on.
Bridgnorth were 15 metres from Leek's line and an easy penalty kick was available to them, but the decision was taken to scrum the 13-man Leek side and go for the win.
The ball came out of the scrum and moved right. Leek's two defenders made two tackles but the extra man was there.
A forward pass ensued as the Bridgnorth wing went over and touched down – but the referee brought play back for offside at the scrum.
With 50 seconds left, again Bridgnorth opted to scrum under Leek's posts, five metres out.
Leek held the Bridgnorth drive as they put eight men in and as the ball came out, great harassment by Ian Harris then contrived a knock-on in the centre.
Leek's scrum held tight for the last play and Luke Staton touched down in goal to end the game and frustrate the visitors.
It had been a dramatic final few minutes, in which two strong teams had fought out a great battle.Bridgnorth could have drawn the game with three points, but the desire and need to win allowed the Leek team to foil the last couple of plays and the Moorlanders won another nail-biter at Esterchem Park.
Only one other game was played on Saturday, with Crewe and Nantwich beating Camp Hill and winning a bonus point to close further on Leek. This Saturday, Leek travel to Camp Hill (2.25pm) ahead of their Intermediate Cup semi-final at Newbold-on-Avon the following weekend.