Leek 13 Stratford 36
Midlands One West
STRATFORD moved to the top of the table thanks to an impressive performance on Saturday in front of a few die-hard fans who had not managed to get tickets for that day’s World Cup matches.
Leek were just one off the bottom of the table so Stratford, enjoying a great start to the season, were firm favourites and it only took three minutes for the visitors to open the scoring when Jo Cook at full back collected a high ball inside the Stratford twenty-two and started a counter-attack.
The backs combined fluently and scrum half Drew Pritchard spotted an opportunity out wide and placed a perfectly weighted cross-field kick. Winger Callum Cook collected the ball and finished the move started by his brother with a try in the corner. Nathan Geekie slotted the conversion for the extras and a stunned Leek were 7-0 down.
Leek fought back and, when Stratford were penalised at a scrum, they opened their account with a relatively straightforward penalty to make it 7-3 after ten minutes.
There was a long stoppage for an injury to Geekie who had to come off to recover and Ash Bonner came on to replace him.
Stratford lost some momentum because of the stoppage but continued to have the upper hand thanks to fierce defensive tackling that snuffed out any threat from Leek.
With less than five minutes left to play in the first half Leek were reduced to 14 players when their inside centre received a yellow card for playing the ball on the ground at a ruck and Jack Young slotted over the kick to make it 10-3.
A player down, Leek were under pressure and Stratford turned the screw. When Leek spilled the ball in the midfield, lock Tom Mylott pounced and began the counter-attack.
Centre Young broke through the defence and very nearly made the try line before being tackled but was able to offload to Jo Cook for a try between the posts. The conversion was a formality and the half finished 17-3 in Stratford’s favour.
Ten minutes into the second half and with Leek back up to a full complement, Stratford won a penalty 12 metres inside the Leek half and in front of the posts, but Young’s kick fell short and Leek’s scrambled clearance kick gave Stratford an attacking lineout on the twenty-two.
The forwards mauled the ball forwards a few metres, keeping the Leek defence moving backwards. Then the backs took over and the ball zipped out wide to the left where Jo Cook used his blistering pace to evade the Leek defence for his second try and, although the conversion was wide, the score moved to 22-3.
Stratford’s bonus point try came just five minutes later. Once again the forwards mauled the ball from a lineout before Pritchard released the backs.
Young once again broke through the line and this time there was no stopping him and he scored in the left corner. Toby Jones had taken over the kicking duties and slotted the difficult conversion to open a commanding 29-3 lead.
Shortly afterwards Stratford lost Liam Jones from the back row to a yellow card and Leek took the easy three points on offer but, despite being a man down, Stratford scored next when Toby Jones collected a chip through and sped in for a try. Jones converted his own score and it was 36-6.
Leek, with the man advantage, eventually made it across the try line when their rapid winger found a gap for a score wide on the right. The conversion was good and the score 36-13.
That is how it finished despite Stratford only having 14 players for the rest of the match as Liam Jones’ return coincided with prop James Hancock also receiving a yellow.
Leek were a very tenacious side and competed for the full 80 minutes but were outclassed in both the backs and the forwards. Stratford really played for each other and used their ferocious defence as a springboard for attack.
With another five points in the bag and previous leaders Burton losing at home, Stratford moved to the top of the table.
On Saturday (3pm) Stratford return to Pearcecroft to face Silhillians, who have only managed one win so far this season, but that was at Hereford so Stratford can take nothing for granted.