The second team moved to the summit of Bateman Conference A with a hard fought but thoroughly deserved victory against Stockport. It was a real triumph against adversity as the day had started terribly for Hoppers. Conor Murphy, Richie Sands and Ben Jackson all had to drop out of the squad on Saturday morning. Martin Bowden-Williams took the number two shirt for his first appearance for Lough’s men whilst Chris Todd jumped in his car having read of Hoppers plight on Twitter.
Despite the setbacks Hoppers started the game at a pace which seemed to take their hosts completely by surprise. Marshalled superbly by seventeen year old Lewis Allen the men from Lightfoot Green were cutting through the Stockport defence at will. Tom Smith put the twos ahead with a well taken penalty before some good interplay led to Dan Fletcher crossing the whitewash. Hoppers led 10-0 and a rout looked likely as Stockport were struggling. Liam Launders then saw his drive for the line held up before skipper Russ Flynn scored in the corner. The hosts got a foothold back in the game with a try of their own but Hoppers immediately struck back with a penalty. Allen’s cross field kick was allowed to bounce by the Stockport full-back and the excellent Mike Haley pounced in a flash to score. Smith added the extras and Hoppers had built a healthy 25-5 lead. Some more well-timed off loads led to Ally Murray strolling under the posts for another converted score. Stockport were then awarded a penalty try and they turned round 32-12 in arrears.
The home side started the second half the stronger and the break appeared to have worked against Hoppers as a dog leg in their defence was exposed by Stockport as a converted try put them well and truly back in the match. They added another soon after but crucially missed their conversion. Disaster was to follow soon after when Launders spotted an overlap down the blind side. The prop’s pass was intercepted and the Stockport flanker ran in from thirty metres out. the score was now 32-29 and Stockport’s seventeen unanswered points made them look like the more likely winners.
Hoppers managed to get a foot hold back in the game and crucially kept their composure. After a string of transgressions Hoppers finally got a penalty of their own which Smith slotted over. The Hoppers pack then gained some revenge for the penalty try as Stockport collapsed a scrum on their own twenty two. Smith was on hand again and Hoppers led 38-29 leaving the home side in need of at least two scores to win.
Hoppers kept the pressure on and were intent on seeing the game out camped in the Stockport half. Allen then showed composure which belied his age as he spotted an opportunity to put the game beyond doubt. His finely executed drop goal took the score to 41-29 and with five minutes left Stockport had too much to do. Credit to the home side as they rallied and grabbed a consolation try with the final play of the match. A real see-saw battle had ended 41-36 to Hoppers and saw them replace Sedgley Park as league leaders.
Next Saturday sees Hoppers seconds travel to Whitefield for a top of the table clash with the Tigers. A win will keep up their hopes of winning the Bateman Premier League although Hoppers will have to overtun a barren run of results against Park. In recent years they have come up short and Sedgley always seem to take the spoils. All being well Hoppers will have a number of players returning to the fold and will take a strong eighteen down the M61.
League table taken from www.nowirul.org.uk.