Hoppers 2ndXV 32-6 Sedgley Tigers 2ndXV
The second team produced their best performance of the season as they humbled the defending champions and current league leaders at Lightfoot Green. After last weekend’s commanding victory at Caldy, Young’s men raised the bar a notch as they erased the memory of their lacklustre display against the Tigers from earlier in the season.
The early exchanges were attritional and the Tigers pack arrived with the intention of bullying the lighter Hoppers forwards and winning the battle of the breakdown. The home side more than matched the visitors in the first twenty minutes before turning the screw, gaining the upper hand at the set piece and dominating the breakdown.
The Hoppers forwards deserve particular praise with the loose forward trio of Clitheroe, Walker and Frings playing out of their skins. This was underpinned by the front five with the returning Darren Clark adding his own brand of physicality to the breakdown.
Young’s men took the lead after twenty five minutes when they gained good front foot ball at the scrum. Man of the match Lambert carried powerfully before fine work by Bevan and Carter sent Marshall over. Ward’s conversion was wide.
Hoppers failed to capitalise as they were penalised at the breakdown. The Tigers made no mistake with Tom Leader sending a well struck penalty between the uprights.
The kiwi full-back had his second just three minutes later though. Kendall went close when he seemed destined to score but Hoppers retained possession and Carter switched play with a cleverly weighted kick. Marshall was alert and touched down. Hoppers were 10-3 ahead and on top.
The Tigers enjoyed their first bit of sustained possession in the Hoppers red zone. However Young’s men responded resolutely and the visitors never really got in behind the home side’s defences. Hoppers lost Danny Burns to an awful looking injury to his left ear whilst Clark required lengthy treatment during half time following a needless off the ball punch.
The men in blue and white began the second stanza strongly with Moulding making an excellent break. The Tigers were penalised and Ward added a well taken three points. Leader then added his second penalty and Hoppers led 13-6 although they continued to keep the visitors at arms length.
Ward then missed a penalty of his own but Hoppers upped the tempo and took the match by the scruff of the neck. Young’s men had a line out fifteen metres from the try line and executed a perfect driving maul which the Tigers couldn’t defend. It resulted in a fine try for the tireless Walker. Ward added the extras and the home side led 20-6.
Dominic Moon then entered the fray after a lengthy absence and after some typically robust work found himself sent to the sin bin for a mis-timed rather than malicious high tackle.
Hoppers didn’t let the numerical disadvantage faze them as some smart work by Moulding and Walker saw the flanker race almost unchallenged down the blindside to score from fully twenty five yards. Ward couldn’t add the extras but the score all but secured the points for Hoppers.
Young’s men weren’t finished as they set up another driving maul. The now tiring Tigers were unable to prevent the dominant Hoppers pack from taking the ball to the line where Walker completed his hat-trick. Ward made his conversion this time and Hoppers played out time.
After the game Young noted that all eighteen players made a positive contribution. The forwards laid the platform but the outside backs were excellent in testing conditions, defending smartly when needed, whilst offering a real threat out wide.
The win sees Hoppers consolidate second place in Conference A but they have a superior points difference and hold a game in hand over the Tigers. The manner of the victory and the confidence it gives the squad will (hopefully) prove vital over the remaining ten fixtures.
Young’s men have no time to rest on their laurels as they face a tough fixture away at Sale FC next Saturday.
The photos below are used with the kind permission of Mike Craig.