Hoppers 2nd XV 34-31 Caldy 2nd XV
The second team progressed to the semi-finals of the knockout cup with a thrilling victory against a dogged and resolute Caldy side.
Young’s men trailed 24-7 and 31-12 at one point but Alex Ward’s penalty two minutes from time saw the home side through. The kick was all the more vital as a tied match would have seen the away side progress under competition rules.
Hoppers dominated territory and possession but were unable to put any sustained pressure or phases together. The first half was particularly frustrating as Caldy capitalised on a series of Hoppers turnovers. This was compounded by some poor first up tackling and a lack of hard running up the middle or adjacent to the ruck.
Preston started brightly but were penalised at a driving maul and the men in black scored a converted try. Guest Matt Cummins nearly hit straight back from the kick off but the winger was adjudged to have put a foot in touch.
Caldy doubled their lead when they seized on a loose pass by Yates and scored under the posts. However the free scoring Luke Proctor reduced the arrears, burrowing over after a powerful Hoppers maul.
Young’s men were the more creative but their execution cost them. Caldy then seized another score when Hoppers were penalised. Some poor tackling around the fringes of a scrum saw the visitors score on the right.
Things got worse for the home side when a well executed cross field kick allowed the winger to score in the corner. Several Hoppers players were caught off guard as the referee indicated that the Caldy midfield were offside. The try stood, and fortunately for Preston, the conversion fell short.
At half-time Hoppers turned round 24-7 in arrears and they entered the break feeling aggrieved as the Caldy lock appeared to use his boots pretty excessively at the final breakdown.
The home side started the second half strongly though as Ward’s a curated cross field kick was gratefully collected by Gargett who finished comfortably. The conversion hit the post but Hoppers were now two converted scores behind.
They failed to sustain the momentum and Caldy broke through for another converted score. At 31-12 down Hoppers seemed destined for a humbling exit but the Caldy score appeared to focus their minds and deepen their resolve.
There was a sense that the tide was turning as the Hoppers pack began to make inroads in the loose whilst Cummins, who had moved to centre, was running some intelligent angles.
Prop Daniel Madden crossed under the sticks and with Ward’s conversion it was a twelve point game. Eyebrows were raised once more as the Caldy lock appeared to kick out after the try was scored but the official felt that the score was sufficient punishment.
As the visitors tired they began to give more penalties away and Hoppers work at the breakdown had improved. Madden powered over and with Ward’s extras the score was now 31-24.
The men in blue and white were camped in the Caldy half and their cause was helped when the visitors’ hooker was sent to the sin bin. Caldy would finish the match short handed but Hoppers still needed at least eight points.
Cummins capped a decent debut when he intercepted a speculative Caldy pass on their ten metre line to score under the posts. Ward’s conversion tied the scores but Hoppers’ elation was tempered by nervousness as they needed to win the match outright.
With just a couple of minutes remaining the Caldy number eight made the crucial error and was penalised at a breakdown in his own twenty two. It was within Ward’s range and the offender was sent straight to the sin bin. Ward’s kick sailed over and Hoppers led for the first time with only two minutes remaining.
Caldy were clearly deflated but mounted one last effort. However Hoppers were able to repel any danger quite comfortably and had made it into the semi finals. It was a game of two halves for Young’s men but their comeback provided some entertainment for the hardy souls who spurned the England game. Given the number of young players in the squad it was encouraging how they refused to panic and saw the game out.
In the other matches, Chester, Sandbach and Vale of Lune all progressed so Young and his tyros await the draw with interest.
The photos below are used with the kind permission of Mike Craig