1st XV Season Opener at Sandal

Date: 31 August 2017

Preston Grasshoppers start just their second ever campaign of Level 5 rugby with a tough looking trip to Sandal’s Standbridge Lane ground for their opening league game of the new season.

Words by Mike Forshaw.

Hoppers will obviously be looking to bounce straight back into National 2 North as they did the last time they played rugby at this level. The task wasn’t an easy one that season, and with clubs such as Harrogate, who were relegated alongside Hoppers, failed play-off competitors Rossendale, promoted Champions Kirkby Lonsdale and Pocklington, plus old adversaries Hull and this weeks opponents Sandal, amongst others, there’ll be plenty of competition.

Our hosts this weekend lost just three home league games last season and all of those were at the hands of the teams who finished first, second and third in the league. Huddersfield, who gained automatic promotion, Rossendale, who lost narrowly in the play-off game against Sheffield after leading going into the final ten minutes, and Hull, all came away with narrow victories.

After losing to Hull at the end of November, Sandal remained unbeaten for the remaining five home games, so Hoppers will travel over the Pennines with plenty of respect for the side that will be facing them.

Hoppers last visited Sandal just two seasons ago during their single season stay at  National 2 North when they completed the double over the Yorkshire side, winning by just four points in forty four.

After a quite a remarkable beginning to that season the Yorkshire side surprised many with a four match unbeaten start before faltering at Huddersfield’s Lockwood Park. Sandal were a lightweight side during that season and whilst their open style of play was suited to the fast dry pitches at the start of the season, once the heavy grounds came in winter their form fell away and from spending some time in the top half of the table they fell away to be relegated as Hoppers were just a season later.

Interestingly Sandal finished that season with twelve victories to their name and sixty points, a total that would have seen them finish tenth at the end of last season in National 2 North, well away from any fear of relegation.

Before their one season stay of 2015/16 Sandal’s last visit to Level 4 rugby ended in 2002, the same time Hoppers lost their National 1 status.

The first meeting between Preston Grasshoppers and Sandal took place nearly twenty five years ago with a club fixture taking place at Lightfoot Green on the 3rd of April 1993 when Hoppers ran out the victors by twelve points to the visitors three. A return fixture was made for the following season over in Yorkshire where the home side ran out narrow winners by four points in forty four.

The clubs didn’t meet the following season but came up against each other for the first time in league action on the 21st of October at Sandal where the home side won on the day by sixteen points to five.

All told there have been eleven meetings between Hoppers and Sandal with ourselves having the advantage by a couple of victories thanks to the double wins at Lightfoot Green and in Yorkshire two seasons back. There’s also been one drawn match between the two clubs. Amongst these games there have been eight league matches in which Hoppers have won five to Sandal’s two plus the thirteen all drawn encounter.

An interesting fact regarding our opponents is noted in Malcolm Crane’s book, “The Rugby Clubs of England” with reference to how they decided on the colour of their shirts. Malcolm writes that initially the club played in green and white hoops, but changed to their current maroon gold and white in 1930 when at a meeting to decide on these particular colours the committee sat at a table covered in a maroon cloth on which was placed a gold and white packet of Wills cigarettes!

A copy of this most fascinating book which reflects the history of numerous rugby clubs around the country can be purchased from the Hoppers Club Shop.

The travelling contingent of Preston Grasshoppers under the flag of the 1869 Club will be happy at the prospect of more local and new venues to visit this coming season where their support for the First XV on their travels is much appreciated.

The aforementioned Club are running a coach for supporters this Saturday, departing Hoppers Clubhouse at 10:30 and taking lunch at a suitable hostelry en-route. As usual anyone is welcome on the trip with the coach fare just £15 and free for accompanied juniors. The return journey to Preston will commence approximately an hour after the final whistle with an expected arrival home around 7pm.

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