Chester 2nd XV 18-12 Hoppers 2nd XV
Hoppers slipped to back to back defeats on Saturday with a disappointing reverse at Hare Lane. Credit to Chester, who deserved their victory, but Hoppers should rue their performance and question why their hosts looked hungrier and more resolute throughout. Young’s men had previously secured two thumping victories against Chester this season but the form book was well and truly torn to pieces.
Hoppers’ convincing victory over Sedgley Tigers in January appears to have been something of a watershed moment. Whilst they produced their best performance of the season by some distance, the victory appears to have precipitated a fluctuation and then an alarming dip in form. As a result a season which promised so much is in danger of fizzling out with a mediocre whimper. Should Vale of Lune get sight of the DVD they will doubtless be looking forward to the cup final with greater vigour than before. More often than not these reflections are filled with tales of fine tries, collective excellence and individual brilliance. Unfortunately today’s piece reflects possibly the worst performance since the 2010/11 season.
In reality this narrative could have been much more positive as Hoppers started excellently. Anthony Elliott crossed after only two minutes following some fine offloading and powerful running by Young’s youthful side. The subsequent conversion was as good as it got for Hoppers as their concentration, execution and skill levels ebbed away. Chester in contrast grew in stature and three minutes later exploited a dozing defence to score down a gaping blind side.
Hoppers huffed and puffed without being able to replicate the continuity which led to their early try. The hosts began to exert some sustained pressure and began to upset a rather fastidious referee. The result was a penalty which Chester gratefully accepted and they led 8-7.
Young’s men did manage to gain some territory but were profligate in possession. Chester then broke from a scrum and exploited a lack of organisation in the Hoppers defence. Whilst it represented an excellent score for the hosts, Hoppers will surely wince when they review the footage and file it in the section marked soft. Chester couldn’t add the extra points but they turned round with a 13-7 lead.
Hoppers began the second stanza with the proverbial flea buzzing in their ears and the early exchanges suggested they had upped their game and were intent on getting back into the game. Unfortunately they were wasteful with the ball again and Chester cleared their lines. Transition and exit sets are a key part of the modern game but in this instance Hoppers fell short. Chester charged down an attempted clearance and were hungrier to the loose ball, scoring a third try on the left hand side. On the face of it 18-7 seemed to be a retrievable lead but Hoppers would need to improve significantly if they were to turn things around.
They had a chance some four minutes later as they drove a line out some forty metres towards the Chester line. The hosts’ second row collapsed the maul illegally and was given a ten minute rest for his trouble but Hoppers were unable to capitalise and turned the ball over. Young’s men struggled to maintain any fluidity and were given a second bite of the cherry when the Chester inside centre was sin binned. However the home side remained resolute and defended well before returning to a full compliment.
Hoppers realised they were running out of time and finally replicated the intensity which was on display in the opening two minutes. They produced a number of phases, setting the platform for Moon to score. The try went unconverted but with the score at 18-12 they knew a converted try would win the game. Young’s men had five minutes to do so but could not produce what they needed, Chester saw the game out and earned a deserved victory.
Hoppers have to lift themselves for two home games against Fylde and Sale FC before the cup final on the 2nd May. Hopefully the Easter break will see them regain some form, confidence and that winning habit.