Hoppers U15 24 Fylde U15 5
Blacksticks Blue Lancashire Cup.
Sunday 25th January
This was final round and the deciding match of Pool A with both teams unbeaten, and Fylde top on points difference by virtue of having played their full complement of games – Hoppers having one game conceded by the opposition and no points difference. The conditions were great for rugby, cool but not freezing and quite still, and playing on the first team pitch set the game up very nicely. Your correspondent was even able to set himself up in the press box of the main stand, though he forgot his trilby hat and press pass!!
Hoppers kicked off through Kieran and from the first ruck put Fylde under pressure. This paid off almost immediately as, having won possession, Callum straightened up at stand off to avoid the very fast Fylde cover and made 10m to give us “go forward” before presenting quick possession: as the ball was recycled and moved to the right to Kieran, he put in an exquisite kick back against the grain, and Ryan showed exceptional pace to gather and dive over in the left corner to score. 5-0 conversion missed.
Hoppers were soon threatening again and after a powerful run from the kick off by Dunnie, and good work by Duggie, Ryan was set clear again on the left wing, only to be stopped by a super tackle by the Fylde full back. Immediately, the ball was made available by the forwards and spun quickly to the right by the backs to Jamie, who was crunched ball and all by the other Fylde wing. The commitment and skill levels shown by both sides were excellent for U15 level. As with the senior game, the set scrums were often messy, and the ref had to “have words”! Fylde were fortunate to avoid conceding penalties as Dunnie consistently ‘bossed’ his loose head,who was unable to keep the scum up, or straight as he went backwards – however we won several against the head to give us domination in possession in the early stages.
Hoppers continued to more than hold their own in the forwards against the traditionally strong Fylde pack, particularly in the set scrums and lineouts and were continually able to provide good ball to the backs. The Hoppers backs were very dangerous, as usual: fast distribution from Tom N and Callum, with Harvey his usual aggressive self in defence and attack, and Tom W showing his silky running skills. Only a combination of excellent Fylde defence and some handing slips from Hoppers kept us from adding to the score. In defence the backs dominated all day, with Fylde unable to make any clean breaks. There was a period where Ryan nearly scored again, but defences were generally on top.
Eventually the second score came following great play from Hoppers: going through several phases, and with more brilliant vision from Kieran. After Jamie nearly went in on the left wing, and after several drives from Hoppers, Fylde were moving up very quickly and closing the Hoppers backs down. As we released the ball to the right, Kieran read this and picked his moment to kick the ball down the middle past the already committed Fylde cover. Duggie then showed amazing pace to chase down and reach the kick and touch down near the posts. 12-0 conversion made by Kieran.
Kieran nearly made another try with a kick when, following runs from Duggie and Jamie he chipped through again, but this time the Fylde full back did great work to get across and cover. Ryan also was very unlucky not to score after he fielded the drop out and chipped over to the corner, but was just unable to reach it before it went dead. Fylde were really struggling to cope with the variety of attacks and having initially used the “rush defence” to put the backs under pressure were now kept guessing where the next attack was coming from.
Fylde were always going to have some chances, but the Hoppers defence was more than up to the task, and when Fylde crafted overlaps, often through the elusive running of James A in their midfield, there was always cover. Duggie, Harvey and Jamie in particular make super efforts to keep them out. On several occasions Fylde also tried to use kicks to open the Hoppers defence, but Kieran was excellent in defence as well, and made several excellent clearing kicks to relieve the pressure. Despite Fylde doing better in the scrums and lineouts as the half progressed, they never looked that threatening. The half ended at 12-0 to Hoppers.
The second half started with Fylde still in the game, and the score probably not reflecting the Hoppers dominance. Fylde kicked off and Adam M coming on at lock received well and Charlie now at scrumhalf put Hoppers back into attack. Both sides had changed scrum half and we were then treated to a great contest between two ‘compact’ players – a classic scrumhalf duel! Hoppers were unlucky to give away several penalties at the breakdown, and a with a couple of handling errors this disrupted our game somewhat. This gave Fylde territory and some possession, but with a combination of good tackling and organisation in defence we kept them out, notably with a great head on tackle from Lewis and a covering tackle on our right wing by Harvey.
Hoppers then put together a classic score. After winning the ball in the line out and attacking through the backs on the left, and several drives by the forwards tying in the cover, the ball was moved to the right and this gave Nathan half a break. He then handed off the covering defender, showing his strength and outpaced the fullback to score in the right hand corner. A wonderful kick made by Kieran to make the score 19-0. Hoppers were now in the ascendency and ensured that they used all of their squad.
Hoppers, though, were still having to tackle hard and Sam R, Harvey, Harry, Duggie and Charlie all made great efforts in covering. This was followed by a stunning try by Jake. He received the ball on the left after the ball was moved through the backs, but cut back to the right running laterally like League, before suddenly straightening up and scything through about 5 players – to then just run away from them all to score. 24-0 conversion missed.
Fylde, to their credit, kept trying to the end and managed to get over with the last play of the game, as Hoppers were pinged with penalties in quick succession and just ran out of defence. Kick missed and the game ended 24-5.
The game was played on the pitch with excellent commitment, but also with great skill and spirit, the latter exemplified when a Fyde player had what looked at first a serious injury. When he was able to continue both sets of lads, and the crowd, applauded him back to a man! Thanks also to the ref who and had a great game, after laying down the law at the start to both sides, he was hardly noticed, and he enabled what was a hard fought game, demonstrating a great standard of rugby from both sides. Hopefully we can avoid each other in the knock out draw and meet again in the final.