Macclesfield 2nd XV 27 Hoppers 2nd XV 36
The second team ensured that their bid to retain the Bateman Premier League remains in their own hands with a thoroughly deserved victory in the affluent surroundings of King’s School in Macclesfield. Preston had to absorb plenty of pressure from a disciplined and efficient Macclesfield pack but it was Hoppers who showed the greater ambition and played all the rugby. The sunny conditions and perfect playing surface suited Hopper’s expansive style and if truth be told the host’s defence was unable to cope with Preston’s ability to offload both pre and post contact.
A thumping tackle from skipper Killian Wallace got things moving in the fifteenth minute as Hoppers turned the Lions over and the excellent Oliver Farley slotted over a penalty. Just a minute later and the defending champions were 10-0 ahead as they counter attacked straight from the kick off. Antony Elliott, who was a threat throughout, beat several defenders and the Hoppers forwards started to off load, the result being a try for inspirational lock Wayne Steel who sprinted home from twenty metres out.
The home side fought back with a succession of pick and drives but their efforts went un-rewarded as the subsequent penalty drifted wide. Hoppers then scored a quality try and found themselves 17-0 ahead after just 23 minutes. The Preston defence turned Macclesfield over in midfield before some quick hands and a smart pass from Reddick sent Elliott down the touchline. The young winger cut inside and stayed strong before off loading to Andrew Pollock who cut a cute angle at real pace before outs printing the defence.
The Lions came bouncing back and their forwards worked a good position close to the Hoppers line. They set a good drive from the resultant line out and the number eight burrowed over for what would be the first of his three tries. This appeared to galvanise the home side and Preston endured a testing period in which they gave away a succession of penalties. The culmination of which saw Jonny Doney sent to the sin bin for coming round the side of the ruck. Macclesfield went for a scrum and their blind side picked from the bad before feeding the eight who strolled over. The conversion was good and Hoppers led 17-12.
Despite being a man light Hoppers struck back immediately and their ability to keep the ball alive paid handsome dividends. Farley broke the gain line before feeding full-back Oliver Yates who finished smartly. The hosts had the last word however as they secured a line out on the Preston five metre line. They set up another effective drive and scored right on the stroke of half time. As a result the sides turned round with the score at 24-12 to the visitors.
Hoppers started the second half positively and were intent on keeping the scoreboard ticking over. Their first foray of the half was ultimately fruitless though as Murray’s drop goal attempt sailed just wide. The next spell of the match was fast, frenetic and furious as both teams tried to deliver the knockout blow. Austin seemed certain to score but failed to hold on whilst Macclesfield finally started to throw the ball around and made some big yards downfield.
It was Preston who delivered the sucker punch however as they counter attacked down the left touchline. Stand off Mark Murray appeared to have been halted about ten metres out but produced what can only be described as a Sonny-Bill moment. His round the corner off load set Yates free and the grateful full-back bagged his second score of the match. Farley’s conversion was just short but Hoppers had a significant 29-17 lead.
The returning Matt Gargett then went close following some tenacious work at the base of the scrum by Sam Gale but the winger couldn’t hang on. However just a couple of minutes later Alex Austin, whose athleticism was a constant threat, powered over for deserved try. Farley’s kick was good and Preston were 36-17 ahead.
Credit to Macclesfield who kept fighting to the end but their ambition came too late to change the course of the match. Their elusive scrum half took a quick penalty and burrowed over for a try before their number eight launched one final charge to the Hoppers line. Some good hands by the Lions backs provided the home side with some consolation although a final score of 27-36 probably flattered the hosts.
The win returned Hoppers to the top of Bateman Conference A on points difference. It means that their bid to retain the title remains in their own hands although there is no room for complacency as they have six tough fixtures remaining. The first of which is Chester’s trip to Lightfoot Green next weekend