Sedgley Park 2nd XV 5 Hoppers 2nd XV 36
The second team produced a dominant performance away at Sedgley Park on Friday night and in doing so kept pace with Conference A leaders Macclesfield. The defending champions dominated the set piece, possession and territory whilst their excellent defence comfortably nullified Park’s attacking efforts. However credit should go to the home side as their back row ensured that the break down was a decent contest for the first hour or so.
Hoppers had the better of the early exchanges but took seventeen minutes to get on the scoresheet. Moments earlier Lewis Allen had shifted a penalty just wide but a scrum deep in their own territory was the catalyst for Alex Austin to score what has become a trademark long range effort. He was assisted by some poor defence but his seventy metre score had the Hoppers fans purring. Allen provided the extras and Young’s men were 7-0 ahead.
Preston maintained something of a stranglehold and doubled their lead when a typically barnstorming run from Russ Flynn put Mark Murray away. The full-back enjoyed a fine game and the manner in which he rounded his opposite man was indicative of a player in great form.
In the lead up to half-time Hoppers began to fall foul of the referee and this gave Park their best chance of gaining territory. Just before the break they set up a well crafted maul and drove a line out over. It was clear that Park’s pack represented the host’s main threat as the Preston backs were handling their Sedgley counterparts with some comfort.
Hoppers were playing down hill after the break and gained an early foothold in the Park twenty-two. Purnell, who’d moved to stand-off, went close with a penalty but Young’s men soon extended their lead when Conway scored a brilliant try after his pack had driven the Sedgley forwards ten metres back.
Preston were putting their opponents under relentless pressure and the rumbustious Flynn stormed over despite the best efforts of a number of Park tacklers. Purnell added the conversion and the second team had a commanding 26-5 lead.
The next segment was dominated by the referee and the match became an untidy affair, beset with errors and stoppages. However this did not stop Preston scoring the try of the night. The excellent Murray carved open the Park defence before feeding Ollie Yates whose audacious offload put Pollock over for a fabulous try.
At 31-5 the game seemed safe but this appeared to sting Sedgley into action and they seemed determined to finish the game with a flourish. The hosts enjoyed their best period and managed to sustain some pressure on the Preston twenty two. Hopper’s defence was tested to the limits and two yellow cards saw the visitors reduced to thirteen men. Park were camped on the five meter line but despite enjoying a two man advantage could not breach Hoppers’ defences. Credit to the six remaining forwards as they turned the ball over and secured good field position deep into Sedgley territory.
Despite their numerical disadvantage the Hoppers backs launched a strike move and Yates produced a scorching finish. Purnell couldn’t add the extras but Preston had secured an excellent 36-5 victory. The result was arguably Hoppers’ best all round performance of the season as the backs defended well whilst showing real menace in attack. Meanwhile the pack, in particular Madden, McGuinnes, Doney & Wallace performed admirably in an attritional contest against committed opponents.
In recent seasons Hoppers have suffered a number of chastening or frustrating defeats at the hands of Sedgley but they have now won on their last three league visits to Whitefield. The dominance they enjoy is a reflection on how far the squad have come since finishing seventh in the 2011 Bateman Premier League campaign.
There is no time for complacency however as Hoppers welcome Caldy to Lightfoot Green next weekend. The men from Paton Field won on their last visit to Preston back in the Autumn although Hoppers redressed the balance in early January. Caldy lost to leaders Macclesfield on Saturday whilst Fylde surprisingly lost at Burnage so Hoppers know that victory is imperative to maintain a their title challenge.
One other note to come from Friday’s game was a nasty looking injury to young Danny Burns as he appeared to damage his knee ligaments in stoppage time. Everybody at the club wishes Danny a speedy recovery and we all look forward to seeing him back in action soon.