Burnage 2nd XV 14 Hoppers 2nd XV 18
The second team made it through to the Raging Bull Cup Final with a hard fought but ultimately deserved victory against a spirited Burnage side. Brad Gilbert once wrote about “winning ugly” but whilst Hoppers lacked their usual flair, Young’s men should be proud of the manner in which they twice came from behind to win the tie.
Burnage were a changed side from when the teams met at Lightfoot Green a few weeks ago, particularly in the front row and outside backs but their outstanding player was their strong running number eight who managed to cross the gain line at will. The home side, whose first team had a week off, were also cheered on by a vociferous and (at times) feisty crowd on what was a fresh but sunny afternoon.
Preston mounted the early pressure but lacked their usual precision and the Burnage number eight countered strongly before some sharp hands put the winger over in the left corner. Coach Young will have been a little disappointed as his side’s defence was a tad lacklustre and the home side’s score came from their first foray into Hoppers territory.
However some fine athleticism by Ollie Yates led to Hoppers drawing level. The young full back managed to keep a Burnage clearance in play before he fed Andrew Pollock who cut through the home defence and passed to Russ Flynn, who galloped under the posts. Tom Smith’s conversion tied the scores at seven apiece. The remainder of the first half was something of an arm wrestle but Preston’s defence was impressive and if truth be told Burnage’s flirtations with the Hoppers line were relatively brief.
Hoppers started the second half the stronger and had Burnage under sustained pressure, the result being a succession of kickable penalties. Smith’s first effort went just wide but shortly after Berry won a turnover and Burnage transgressed once more. Smith made no mistake this time and Preston led 10-7. Just four minutes later Smith stretched the lead to 13-7 as the home side were sanctioned for crossing in the midfield.
Credit to the home side though as they came back strongly and mounted so e sustained pressure. It seemed as though Hoppers’ defence would hold firm but some questionable defence allowed the number eight to counter once more before the inside centre broke a number of would be tacklers to score under the posts. Burnage led 14-13 and judging by the volume on the sidelines the crowd sensed that an upset was on the cards.
Young’s men showed what they were made of though as they came storming back. Tom Smith went close following seem inventive back play before Ollie Yates knocked on when it seemed easier to score. The crucial score came four minutes later though as a couple of penalties allowed the blue and whites to camp themselves on the Burnage line. A powerful drive from well taken line out saw Fletcher cross the whitewash, Smith missed the extras but Hoppers were 18-14 ahead and had one boot in the final.
Burnage mounted one last effort and spent the last five minutes deep in Hoppers territory, setting up some dangerous looking drives within the five metre line. Despite the pressure Preston held firm and one massive effort at the scrum sealed the victory in a highly competitive and (at times) nerve wracking encounter.
The final will be played on May 4th at a venue yet to be finalised and Hoppers’ opponents will be Caldy who upset Macclesfield. It’s sure to be a highly competitive and entertaining finale to the season. Hoppers have no time to reflect on Saturday’s win as they have to dust themselves down for a crunch clash at The Woodlands on Friday night.