(Photo courtesy of Mick Craig)
Hoppers picked up their first away points of the season sharing the spoils with a spirited Bromsgrove side on their first trip to Finstall Park.
Head Coach Dave Baldwin said; “I am quite pleased to get our first points away from home against a useful team and we could have left with more. It was a good comeback after going down by fourteen points early and we showed good composure and kept our shape, but penalties cost us.”
For the second consecutive away game Hoppers found themselves 14 points adrift in the opening ten minutes as Bromsgrove capitalised on turnovers and poor decision making. Jon Critchlow opened the scoring when the home side turned the ball over on half way and kept play alive down the left before a good inside ball put the full back away and when number 8 Drew Harper touched down from the back of a rolling maul the home crowd were anticipating a rout.
Hoppers managed to get themselves back into the game thanks to a big effort from the forwards and good tactical work from the half backs. After kicking a penalty to the corner and trying to launch a rolling maul of their own further penalties allowed scrum half Nathan Fowles to take a quick tap and squeeze over.
Phil Baines got Hoppers second try as they were able to make the most of a turnover and once Russell Flynn had made good yards through the middle of the pitch Bromsgrove’s defence was stretched and Baines was found all alone on his left wing for an easy score. Graham Holroyd added both conversions and a penalty before the break but Hoppers infringed at the restart and allowed Ben Copson to convert a penalty to add to his two successful try conversions and the sides went into the break 17-17.
Hoppers started the second half just as poorly as the first and conceded a try in the opening minutes as missed tackles allowed replacement Chris Morgan to sprint in down the right wing from half way. Hoppers were able to answer straight back as Tom Hughes benefitted from great work from Baines who made up for missed tackles with a powerful hand off and a wonderfully timed inside ball to Hughes who strolled in by the posts.
Again it was poor tackling that allowed the host to retake the lead as they moved the ball well from left to right and Tom Warren powered through the middle of the Hoppers defence to score.
But Hoppers once again fought back to level the scores as the impressive Holroyd executed an inch perfect cross field kick to find Baines in acres of space following a great turn over from replacement Chris Lowden.
Both sides had chances to win the game in the final minutes, with Bromsgrove bundled into touch as timed expired, but on reflection a draw was probably the fairest result, Hoppers could have won the game with a touch more luck as they were close to scoring on a couple of occasions, especially when a cross kick to Matt Hughes was just slightly too high and Dominic Moon was surprisingly adjudged to have knocked on over the line but they were again guilty of trying to play rugby in areas of the pitch they shouldn’t and playing too much behind the gain line, they gifted Bromsgrove tries in the first half and if they can tighten up in these areas then there are plenty of positives to take from the attacking play and they have shown they have the ability to score from anywhere on the pitch given the right ball.
Baldwin summed it up saying; “this is a work in progress and we were a bit sloppy at times but look at the difference to where we were last year and there is a lot more to come.”