BIRMINGHAM SOLIHULL 16 PRESTON GRASSHOPPERS 19
For the second successive week, Hoppers travelled to the Midlands and had to contend with dreadful conditions before again coming away with a hard-earned win.
Assistant coach Karl Fitzpatrick was critical of his charges’ first half performance. “Although we were ahead at halftime, we are performance rather than results driven and knew that we had to improve. Our defence had been very passive, especially around the rucks and mauls, although we looked good with ball in hand. We needed a response and got it with a visible improvement after the break.”
Hoppers were first on to the attack but were soon under pressure from the Bee’s well-drilled, muscular pack. Off side at a driving maul gave home kicker Jack Jolly an easy penalty after 9 minutes and, straight from the restart, a missed tackle in the centre allowed full-back Oscar Heath to race in and Jolly was on target again.
This stung the visitors into action and they capitalized on a knock on from the kick off as, from the resulting scrum, Craig Aikman broke and touched down his own grubber kick, Sean Taylor adding the extras.
Again the pendulum swung and some strong driving play from the home pack created space and time for fly half Lee Chapman to snatch a well-taken drop goal to increase the lead.
Hoppers’ attempts to deny the conditions with some expansive play produced a series of handling errors and the Bees continued to cause problems and seemed more alert around the breakdown. But at last Hoppers found some fluency and Phil Baines’ break was supported by Taylor and Kilian Wallace who was tackled just short. Sustained pressure from a lineout drive allowed replacement Alex Austin to break off and score and Taylor’s conversion gave his side a 14-13 lead at the break.
A heavy, wintry shower made conditions even worse and Hoppers’ pack tightened up their game with some strong drives and in the 56th minute, from another lineout drive, Austin scored a carbon-copy second touchdown although this time Taylor was wide with the kick.
As the shirts became undistinguishable in the mud, Jolly reduced the arrears with a second penalty but a yellow card for a dangerous tackle did not help the home cause and Hoppers’ improved defence withstood some late pressure to secure the win.