Birkenhead Park 2nd XV 20 Hoppers 2nd XV 52
The second team remain unbeaten following a comfortable victory away at Birkenhead Park. As a result Young’s men remain one point behind Caldy in the Bateman Premier League. The men from Paton Field enjoyed a 120 point victory on Saturday and things are bubbling up nicely for when the two sides meet at Lightfoot Green in a fortnight. Hoppers meanwhile will hope to leapfrog Caldy on Tuesday night when they travel to Liverpool St Helens to play their game in hand.
Since overpowering Fylde a fortnight ago Hoppers have struggled to hit their straps and whilst they played some scintillating rugby at times, coach John Young and the whole squad feel that there is still room for improvement. Complacency is not an issue although it is possible that the players have one eye on the Conference A fixtures which are decided when the Premier League splits in two.
Hoppers dominated the game without moving out of third gear and opened the scoring with their first possession. Wing Andrew Pollock made a lightning break in conjunction with some good work by Ollie Yates that led to evergreen forward Craig Steel scoring on the left. Steel was a late call up as the second team injury curse hit another lock forward on Thursday night when John Wells injured his jaw to join Jack Banks and Dan Fletcher on the sidelines. The Preston backs looked dangerous every time they had the ball and if truth be told they were left frustrated at times by the lack of quick or quality ball. This was in part due to the efforts of the Birkenhead forwards who did their best to disrupt the breakdown.
Killian Wallace then seized upon some scrappy play to grab a try that the returning Lewis Allen converted. However the arrears were shortly reduced to 12-3 when Park won a penalty in the Hoppers twenty two. At this stage Preston were falling foul of the referee’s interpretation of the breakdown and this hampered their efforts to gain total control.
Hoppers finally put some phases together and Alex Austin, who survived an injury scare, glided under the posts for a converted score. Shortly after Mark Murray, who enjoyed a great game at inside centre, broke through a number of tackles to set up Pollock for his first try in Hoppers’ colours. The subsequent conversion meant that Hoppers turned round 26-3 ahead.
Birkenhead reduced the arrears with a penalty straight from the restart but Hoppers then enjoyed a sustained period of pressure which was the catalyst to a converted try from Yates. Young’s men were in control and the points were secured although the game remained scrappy rather than spectacular. An outrageous piece of skill from Andy Napier then put Wallace in for his second try which was duly converted by the reliable Allen.
The home side then enjoyed their best period in which they won a number of penalties and spent some time in Hoppers territory. They capitalised on a bouncing ball and some sleepy defence to score a converted score of their own in the left hand corner. Hoppers replied soon after though when Austin tapped and went from a penalty on the Park twenty two, evading two abject tackles before strolling under the posts.
Birkenhead kept fighting and secured a dubious looking turnover near the half way line which gave their backs some space to attack. Somewhat unusually the Hoppers defence was caught short and some average tackling allowed Park to score in the right corner. Hoppers led 45-20 but made sure they enjoyed the last word. Lewis Allen made a sublime break before offloading to Murray who scored under the posts. The creator added the extras and Preston had secured a 52-20 victory.
Young’s men have a couple of nights to recharge their batteries before travelling down the East Lancs Road on Tuesday night to face old friends Liverpool St Helens. Kick off is scheduled for 7.30pm and Young will be looking to name his squad on Monday afternoon.