For long periods in this game a much changed and unfamiliar Hoppers 2nd XV were given a lesson in how to play in wet and windy conditions by an older, experienced Waterloo side who belied their lowly league position. Ultimately Hoppers’ desire came to the fore to clinch the game late on after a spirited second half fight back.
Words by Tom Peterson
With injuries taking their toll on the senior squad the coaching team were forced into a number of changes. Sam Madden made his season debut at 9, Tom Kin came into the left wing berth and a few players found themselves in unfamiliar positions. The visitors turned over Fylde away from home last week so Hoppers knew this would be a sterner test than the ‘Loo side they had beaten three times already this season.
The team prepared well with DJ Oli Yates’ rippling, Balearic baselines in the changing room providing more motivation than any team talk possibly could and took to the field in a determined mood. However, despite Hoppers’ kicking an early penalty, things started badly and quickly got worse with the home side coming under heavy pressure in the early exchanges. With the ball greasier than Jobe Roxby’s barnet, Hoppers’ usual high tempo handling game struggled to get going. A dropped ball in the home 22 saw Hoppers run off the ball at the first of many scrums during the game. Waterloo capitalised with a try shortly after a number of close range pick and drives to put them 3-7 in fron
Hoppers were already struggling at the set piece against a wise and gnarly group of seasoned campaigners and matters were not helped when young hooker Connor Johnson had to leave the field with a nasty looking ankle injury. Tom Kin followed shortly after and Hoppers’ replacement resources were already gone. Luke Procter moved to the unfamiliar role of inside centre to try and secure some go forward in midfield.
Hoppers huffed and puffed for the remainder of the half with little reward as they were continually punished for handling errors, poor decision making and indiscipline. The visitor’s fly half pinned the home side back into their 22 at every opportunity. A second ‘Loo try came half way through the half in similar fashion to the first and with the conversion good they extended their lead to 3-14. This seemed to wake Hoppers up and bash brothers Purcell and McGuinness got Hoppers moving forward. Captain Ackrigg touching down just before half time with a trade mark bullocking run to conclude the opening stanza at 10-14.
After a half time team talk of saying all the right things and building on the momentum of the end of the first half, the second period started disastrously for the home team. First, dropping the kick off deep in their own 22 and then conceding a soft, carbon copy of the first try through a number of powerful Waterloo drives to leave themselves 19-10 in arrears.
As the half progressed both sides tired and a lengthy period of scrums, breaks, stoppages and searching for the visitor’s captain’s contact lense ensued. The partisan home crowd, mainly consisting of relatives of the Procters, must have wondered how Hoppers would turn this around. With a disappointing defeat looming Luke Procter defied logic and admirably squeezed into the number 9 shirt as the home side looked to go with a more direct approach and were instantly rewarded as number 8 Frings broke down the short side to release Hoppers’ gargantuan scrum half to score in the corner. Roxby unsuccessful for the only time in the game. 15-19.
With Hoppers now very much in the ascendency and backed by the whole 1st XV squad roaring them on, they started to break the ‘Loo defence at will. Yates, who moments before was hauled down just short by a deceptively quick prop, put Hoppers in front with a finely taken try following some slick handling. Roxby making no mistake this time to put his side 22-19 up with 5 minutes to play.
Time and time again throughout the half the Hoppers back row of Edwards, Frings and young Dec Norrington pressured the opposition and turned ball over to help launch new attacks. From the restart prop Purcell produced a monster break, swatting defenders away like flies to put Hoppers back in the visitors half. More superb handling from the midfield of Roxby and Ackrigg took Hoppers close and Luke Procter grabbed his second shortly after, clearly enjoying his new found freedom marshalling the pack. This secured the four try bonus point.
Waterloo grabbed a late consolation to conclude the scoring at 29-24 to a Hoppers side that have too often been on the wrong end of tight games this season. Although there is much to work on, the character and manner in which the young home team turned this game around was very pleasing. US-bound Matt Frings deservedly grabbed the Man of the Match award as he led by example all day and was instrumental in turning the tide.
Next up for Hoppers’ 2nd XV is a celebratory Pizza feast on Tuesday and then a trip to local rivals Fylde as they chase a third placed finish with only five games of the season remaining.
Hoppers 2nd XV – Burns, Johnson, McGuinness, Purcell, Allen, Norrington, Edwards, Frings, S Madden, Roxby, Yousef, J Ackrigg, C Procter, Kin, Yates. Subs: Naylor, L Procter, T Peterson