Hoppers 2nd XV 53 Chester 2nd XV 10
Hoppers booked their place in the semi-finals of the Raging Bull Cup with a comfortable victory over Chester. Lightfoot Green was bathed in winter sunshine although there was nothing warm about the afternoon air. Preston started positively and any hopes that Chester had of gaining vengeance for last Saturday’s defeat were firmly dispelled in the first twenty minutes. The visitors were outplayed in all facets of the game aside from the scrummage but the Hoppers defence was too smart and too aggressive which meant Chester were unable to gain any momentum.
Man of the match Lewis Allen opened the scoring after two minutes with a well taken penalty after dynamic work from the Preston forwards. Chester tried to strike back immediately but Berry turned them over in his own 22 before Reddick countered deep into his opponents half. Allen, who marshalled play brilliantly all day, then sent a brilliant cross kick into oceans of space where the waiting Elliott had time to walk over the try line for a converted score. Hoppers led 10-0 and looked dangerous whenever they put any width on the ball. The dry and sunny conditions were a stark contrast to the quagmire they’ve played on in the last two weeks and it suited their gameplan perfectly.
Chester were again turned over in the Preston 22 and quick ball saw Yates race home from fifty metres. 17-0 soon became 22-0 when yet another turnover allowed Morton to sling a wide pass out to the grateful Yates to bag his second. The visitors’ first piece of sustained possession led to a try on the left as a dog-leg in the home defence created a simple overlap. Hoppers led 22-5 but any hopes of Chester launching a comeback were snuffed out by Allen, whose penalty from thirty metres punished Chester’s indiscretion at the breakdown.
The stand-off’s outstanding afternoon continued as he scored under the posts following a counter attack that was launched by Mark Murray under his own posts. Chester’s backs endured a chastening afternoon as Hoppers’ pace and handling was simply too good for them.
Preston led 32-5 at the break and quickly turned the screw following the restart. Murray’s dancing feet breached the Chester defence and Allen launched another audacious cross kick into the left hand corner which found Reddick who made no mistake. Yates then completed his hat-trick as the Chester outside centre dropped the ball straight into the young winger’s hands. He gratefully gobbled up the chance and sped in for another converted try.
Chester then grabbed a consolation score, making a mess of a Hoppers scrum and winning a succession of penalties before their big prop flopped over in the left corner, taking the score to 46-10. Hoppers had the last word as the returning Matt Gargett intercepted a speculative Chester pass just inside his own half. The winger, playing his first game since the overwhelming victory against Fylde dashed to the line leaving a number of defenders in his wake. Allen fittingly had the last word with a fine conversion and Hoppers had won 53-10.
In the other quarter-finals Burnage, Caldy and Macclesfield prevailed. Hoppers are unbeaten away from Lightfoot Green but will doubtless be hoping for a home tie in the semi-final. A greatly improved performance from Hoppers sets them up nicely for next weeks final league match before they begin their Conference A campaign on January 5th. They face bottom of the table Altrincham Kersal knowing that a victory should cement their place as winners of the preliminary league table.
Thanks to Mike Craig for giving us permission to use his photographs.