With Leesbrook unable to field a team against Ashfield’s first XV, the development squad carried the Ashfield flag, welcoming East Leake’s first XV to Larwood Park only to be beaten 18-16.
The reverse fixture in early January saw Ashfield victorious 8-7 against a very strong and powerful East Leake.
Looking at the Leake line-up, the side was unrecognisable of that some eight weeks previous and looked to have come for revenge.
With the crowd assembled and a loud blast of the referee’s whistle, something we wouldn’t hear too often as he allowed the game to flow and develop at every opportunity, the game was underway.
Ashfield had the better of the early exchanges with Craig Ward breaking the gain line and, with support runners, a certain try look on the cards.
Pete Alldread, working his way back to full fitness, accepted a pass from Ward. He then drew the last defender and calmly passed the ball to wing Kip Herring, who raced to the try line unaware that the referee had blown his whistle - a forward pass was indicated, no try.
The Ashfield pack was in control, although they couldn’t capitalise on the early possession and on a rare foray into the Ashfield 22, East Leake opened the scoring.
A penalty was awarded for not rolling away, an opportunity East Leake’s scrum half took with ease. Ashfield tried to shrug off this setback with some direct play by Adam Roebuck, Shaun Alsop, Chris Warnes, Gary Jeffries and the evergreen Alan Payne, but it was East Leake who scored again. A line out to East Leake set a platform for their forwards, the Ashfield defence could not contain the surge and a try was scored. A missed conversion made the score 8-0 to the visitors.
A further converted penalty by East Leake had Ashfield on the back foot.
Craig Ward again broke, supported by his forwards, and the Ashfield team laid siege to the East Leake try line and, after several phases of play, a try was scored.
The try was a result of the dominant Ashfield pack. Tim Gibbons fed the ball in, Richard Hutchinson hooked the ball back and Gary Jefferies at No.8, found the ball at his feet.
Orchestrated by Gibbons, the drive was on and forced the East Leake pack over their own try line, Jeffries applying the downward pressure required to score the try.
Alan Payne stepped up to score the additional two points and reduce the deficit to four points. The game then swung on a decision that left the home crowd stunned.
The referee awarded a penalty to East Leake in their own half with their scrum half opting to take a quick tap. The defending team must retreat 10m or not tackle the ball carrier, but Tim Gibbons instinctively tackled his opposite number in his first few strides.
The referee blew and a yellow card was shown to Gibbons. With Ashfield down to 14 men and playing against a young talented side, Ashfield would have to dig deep if they wanted something out of this match. The Ashfield defence came under extreme pressure and, while coping admirably, the pressure finally told.
Defending in their own 22, Ashfield seemed to have again repelled their visitors’ attack, winning a line out, which they had dominated for most of the game.
With East Leake’s attack applying pressure, Ashfield spilled the ball, a mistake that cost them five points as a try was scored.
They say that you save the best until last, and so it was to be for Ashfield’s young wing Rob Kirk.
Taking the ball in his own half, he ran towards the onrushing defence. Instinctively, he feinted to go one way, dropped his shoulder and stepped the other way, totally wrong-footing the defender.
With space to exploit and pace to burn, Kirk had but one thought as he glided and jinked past six or seven defenders and touched down for a great individual try under the posts. With the conversion, Ashfield were now two points behind at 16-14. The game then ebbed and flowed, but with no further score East Leake had taken the spoils.
However, Ashfield can take comfort from the fact that they played and stayed in contention with a very good side.