Warrington U15s 10 Hoppers U15s 22
Sunday 1st February
Following the success last week in the Blacksticks Blue Lancashire Cup, and topping the final pool standings, Hoppers were on the road at Warrington. The day was dry and sunny which was a relief after the recent snow, but was bitterly cold with a cutting wind blowing diagonally across the pitch, effectively against Hoppers in the first half.
Warrington kicked off deep and despite a strong return by Harvey, Hoppers made a very tentative start and put themselves immediately under pressure. A combination of players getting used to unfamiliar positions, the difficult wind against them reducing the options to clear their lines, and some basic errors meant that the lads hardly had any possession in the Warrington half for the first quarter of the match. For long periods Hoppers were pinned near their own line and often were running a ‘scramble’ defence as they tried to recover from their own turnovers. Charlie worked hard and put in clearing kicks, and the backs were very strong in their cover defence as they were often caught trying to cover overlaps. Harvey in particular made several ‘man and ball’ tackles on his opposite number and several covering tackles to stop dangerous moves.
The Hoppers forwards initially struggled to get to grips with the match and lost lots of ball in the rucks as the opposition managed to spoil around the fringes, ensuring that any ball the backs did have was slow, and met with a strong rush defence from Warrington. Lineouts were somewhat of a lottery in the conditions and set scrums were bedevilled with the problems of the senior game and we were consistently having to hook against an already backwardly moving scrum!
Following a bad wrist injury to Adam M (hope you have a quick recovery) the inevitable came from a quickly taken penalty near the Hoppers line and Warrington, having sucked the defence in with several drives, moved the ball to their right and went over to score. 0-5 conversion missed.
Hoppers had defended gallantly, but the pressure had to tell. The subsequent kick off was probably the first time we had the ball in their half, but this was short lived as they punted back and forced us back into our own half. The Warrington backs were looking dangerous and if it wasn’t for the strong defence they would have scored again very quickly. In the end this was to no avail as they scored again to make the score 0-10, conversion missed.
This was probably Hoppers worst quarter of a match this season, but they rallied, regrouped and started to get some of the basics right. Tom N made a good run from the kick off to give us our first possession in their half. As soon as we managed to get some possession and territory then the Hoppers’ backs started to look their normal, dangerous selves. Harvey put in a great straight drive to get some ‘go forward’, quickly followed by a good move to give Nathan his first run on the right wing. Immediately afterwards Hoppers scored a great try, moving the ball to the left before recycling and getting it quickly to the right, where Tom W timed a great pass to Jamie who had too much power and speed for the cover, running in the first Hoppers’ try. 5-10 conversion missed.
Hoppers had the reward for hanging on in there and defending with great effort. Despite conceding all of the territory and possession in the first part of the match, they were still within a score of the lead. The tide was already starting to turn, but we were still suffering with some basic mistakes and decision making was, at times, a little wanting and putting ourselves under pressure and turning over possession. Charlie helped to build pressure at scrum half with some quick taps and play, and Ethan created several dangerous opportunities with his elusive running from outside half. Near the end of the first half Ethan broke through with his outrageous dummy and, as he was tackled, put in a great kick through for Jamie who just could not quite reach it in time to score. The forwards were now realising that they had to clear out at rucks to give no possibility of the opposition spoiling, and particularly Dunny and Sam M were managing to hold the fringing defence, and secure some clean ball. The first half ended 5-10, but the Hoppers’ supporters were feeling that the storm had been weathered, and we were well set for the second half.
Hoppers kicked off the second half, having made substitutions giving all the squad game time, and with the wind behind them managed to immediately put Warrington under pressure. Soon after, Hoppers drew level with a well worked try. After a great drive by Will, and clean possession after a good clear out by Lewis, the backs moved the ball to Hoppers’ left to Tom W. He ran at the angle and used Nathan on the wing as a ‘foil’ to create a gap in midfield as the defence anticipated the pass wide. Tom W then beat three or four despairing attempts to tackle him, to score to the left of the posts. 10-10 as the conversion was missed, the wind pushing the kick wide.
Warrington were not going to give any ground easily, and were soon back in the Hoppers’ half threatening to respond. Hoppers were now much more in control, though, and good clearing kicks from Callum and strong tackling by Harvey and Jamie on their opposite backs snuffed out the danger. We were still not at our best, hampered by scrappy set scrums and line outs, but we were starting to get these working better. The next try put Hoppers into the lead and was a great score. Sam R had thrown really well in the conditions and put one to the back, to be taken by Sam M who fed Tom N with quick ball. The backs moved it quickly wide to the right to Jamie who ran clear on the wing and ‘bounced’ the covering tackle off before offloading with one hand inside to Harvey, who had run a great inside support line. Harvey then powered away from the remaining defence to score under the posts. 17-10 conversion made by Ethan.
Hoppers still had to work hard to overcome the spirited Warrington team, but with the elements against them and as they started to tire, it looked like a Hoppers win. Nathan had looked really dangerous all day and was unlucky not to get a try for himself after several breaks on his wing were stopped with combination of good tackles, a foot in touch, other options taken, but he nearly scored following super work by Tom W in the centre. He broke through and then kicked into space, before kicking on again for Nathan to chase down – as Nathan went to kick it over the line it ‘bobbled’ up and skimmed off his foot into touch!
Hoppers were now starting to dominate with great work from the forwards, who eventually got a penalty at the ruck with the Warrington player blatantly lying on the wrong side. Charlie took a quick tap and timed a pass really well to put Will clear to score as the Warrington defence failed to react quickly enough. Conversion missed, 22-10. Hoppers had several more dangerous attacks, but Warrington to their credit defended hard right to the end of the match.
Final score Hoppers 22 Warrington 10. The game was played with excellent commitment and spirit and Warrington really gave us a hard fought game under quite difficult conditions. Hoppers’ players really had to dig in and graft out a win, which really tested them. If the Blacksticks Blue Lancashire knock out stages go to form, then we may meet each other in the semi-final which would be a rematch to look forward to.