Preston Grasshoppers 11-28 Sale
Preston Grasshoppers made Sale work for their victory in a highly physical contest in what could be the final first-team fixture played on grass at Lightfoot Green.
With the AGP set for completion in time for Hoppers’ next home game – against Chester on January 7 – both defences made plenty of bone-jarring tackles in a match that saw five yellow cards brandished.
However, four converted tries were enough for Sale to remain second in the National League 2 North table.
Hoppers’ head-coach Garth Dew reflected: “In terms of attitude and putting bodies on the line, I can’t fault the lads at all.
“For quite a young squad we went toe-to-toe with one of the bigger teams in the league and we can take credit for that, but ultimately it was evident why both clubs are at opposite ends of the table.
“When we got into Sale’s twenty-two we panicked and coughed up a lot of ball, and in games like that you have to be more clinical and make the most of the territory, and we didn’t.
“I hope moving to the new pitch will bring a better atmosphere on match day and it should suit our strengths more, and the shift onto the new surface with half a season left could be what turns it around for us.”
Sale’s first try came after 10 minutes through Scott Rawlings.
After numerous phases, Sale got the ball into their backs and Chris Johnson put Rawlings in out wide, with Liam McGovern slotted the challenging conversion.
Hoppers then generated a good field position and had their first points on the board when Lewis Allen kicked a penalty.
But despite having more territory, it was the visitors who scored next – Tom Ailes crashed over from the scrum’s base with the score coming against the run of play.
Hoppers bagged their deserved try after 33 minutes when Will Hunt switched the direction of play to set up Tom Forster with a well taken score in the corner. Allen failed to add the extras.
Another Allen penalty meant Hoppers went into half-time only three points behind.
However, Sale bagged two tries in ten minutes to take the game beyond their opponents.
Ollie Longmore crashed over from a driving maul and a penalty try was then awarded after Oga Mabaya deliberately collapsed a maul.
Handling errors and ill-discipline cost the hosts dearly in a second-half that saw 16 penalties and four yellow cards issued.
Hoppers spent the last quarter camped in Sale’s half, and with the visitors having two men in the sinbin, Hoppers could sense their opportunity as the crowd urged them further towards the try-line.
However, after gaining a good field position and with a penalty coming their way, Hoppers’ fly-half Will Hunt reacted to foul play after dump tackling a Sale player off the ball, with Hunt also ending up in the bin and the penalty was reversed.
That incident highlighted the gulf in experience between the two sides, and Hoppers will feel disappointed not to have been able to capitalise on the significant amount of pressure they put Sale under.
Photo by Mike Craig – Tom Forster, Hopper’s only try scorer of the afternoon.
By Henry Woodsford