Sale FC 2nd XV 5-31 Hoppers 2nd XV
The second team made it three wins out of three with a solid if somewhat un-spectacular victory at Heywood Road. On a sunny yet distinctly fresh afternoon Young’s men consolidated their position in the upper reaches of Conference A. After their fine performances against Caldy and Sedgley Tigers Hoppers initially struggled to find their usual tempo and fluidity.
They did improve in the second half and the men from Lightfoot Green did waste three gilt edge chances which would have given the score line a fairer reflection of their superiority. It was hard to explain why Hoppers misfired but their powerful pack were undoubtedly stymied by their hosts inability to field a front row. In recent weeks the Hoppers scrum has given them real momentum and the development certainly left the front row of Altham, Wilkinson & McGuiness frustrated as the match kicked off.
The opening exchanges were tentative with Preston probably the more threatening. Perhaps the most significant occurrence being the sin-binning of Clitheroe (for Hoppers) and the Sale lock-forward following an altercation. Ward struck a penalty wide on twenty-five minutes but it was that man Ryan Marshall who once again broke the deadlock just a few minutes later. Hoppers had a scrum some five metres out and the elusive New Zealander darted over for an un-converted score. Young’s men began to play according to their field position and the introduction of Holmes added some directness to Hoppers play. The hooker made a series of marauding runs, including one lung bursting second half carry that took him deep behind the Sale lines.
Shortly after Marshall’s score, prop Pete Altham went close but what should of been a try scoring pass just died on him a little and he couldn’t hold it. Preston made no mistake seconds later though as the pack set up a potent maul and the ever alert Marshall grabbed his second. Ward made no mistake with the conversion and Hoppers were 12-0 to the good.
Sale came back and enjoyed their first period of pressure. The away side defended well though but with tempers frayed and Walker was yellow carded along with the number 1 from Sale.
The sides turned round and Walker scored just moments after his return. Hoppers made their way into the Sale red zone and Wilkinson hit a lovely angle at the side of the breakdown. Marshall got the ball away quickly to the flanker who scored in the left corner. The conversion was good and it was now 19-0.
Hoppers then spurned another chance as Walker and Yates conspired to make a hash of things when it seemed easier to score. Young’s men had broken well and were starting to build some momentum but could not get the try which the build up play probably deserved.
The knocks were starting to rack up for Young’s men but despite the adversity Clitheroe hit a nice line to waltz over. The flanker found himself playing in the backline with fellow loose forwards Matt Frings and Jamie Gage. Ward’s kick sailed over and Hoppers were 26-0 ahead. Replacement Gage then left the action and Hoppers had no choice but to finish the match with fourteen players. This prompted a mini flourish from the home side as they strung together some offloads to score on the left hand side. Young’s men had hoped to keep a clean sheet. However, given the re-organisation they were forced into, it was little surprise when their line was eventually breached.
Hoppers rallied though and finished the stronger. Marshall sniped over for his hat trick giving the utility back his fifth try in two matches. Ward couldn’t add the conversion but Hoppers had completed a relatively comfortable victory on what was a great day for the club.
There is little respite for Young’s men as they welcome Macclesfield to Lightfoot Green next Saturday. The men from Priory Lane are perennial challengers for the Bateman Premier League and there have been a number of entertaining clashes between the two sides in recent seasons. Next weekend’s game is sure to be played in similar vein may well prove significant in the destination of championship.