Hoppers 2s make arduous progress to the Semi Final of the BEST cup against a determined Sandbach 2nd XV.
During the uncompromising depression of 1930s America, the broadcaster and comedian Milton Bearle once said, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door”. The value of such a sentiment seemed to go astray after such a positive start to what became a labored win for the 2nd XV
Under the gloom of Abigail’s misery, Hoppers travelled to Sandbach to compete in the quarter final of the BEST cup. As holders, Hoppers travelled with a strong and youthful side, determined to progress to the semi-final and with Sandbach’s ground firm but wet under foot, there was no reason why they shouldn’t do. With the warm up and match prep complete, Sam Whyte led a focused and determined side onto the field.
Hoppers started well, and from the kick off made yards with some accurate passing and go forward movement. With the additions of Woof and Reddick in their familiar centre positions, the Hoppers midfield were able to feed off quick ball and beat the gain line with every phase.
The scoreboard leapt into life soon after with Forster punishing an infringement from the Sandbach defence, setting hoppers into an early 0-3 lead. The restart was returned with interest and Sandbach found themselves defending on the back foot from the quick Hoppers return. Working into the wide channels, Whyte switched the play and good hands along the back line allowed the covering Birchall-Feeeny to collect and score on the opposite 15m line. Forster pulled the conversion wide and Hoppers led 0-8.
Hoppers continued to dominate and with Wardell coming off temporarily, it allowed ex colt, Tyler Sloane to make his 2nd XV debut. Sandbach built up a little bit of steam and started to run some phases at the hoppers defence but they soon ran out of ideas and the 10 reverted to a kicking in behind. Collected by the ever adaptable Jack Swarbrick, playing as a 15, it was returned with his usual pace and strength. Two phases later and young Craig Proctor took a pass from Whyte into space and made 50 metres to set down under the sticks. Forster duly converted and Hoppers lead 0-15. The score increased 5 mins later with Billy Woof stepping inside his opposite number to score a well-made try. Forster again converted and with 10 minutes to go to half time, Hoppers lead 0-22.
Sandbach were far from despondent and with obvious experience in their ranks, started to build up some confidence by keeping the ball in hand, and playing a more direct attacking game against the younger, smaller Hoppers pack. Phase after phase was driven back until Sandbach earned a penalty just inside the 22. The Sandbach 10 had a good boot and got them on the board just before the half. 3-22.
Hoppers replied by getting into the Sandbach 22 and Whyte kicked a little grubber through the defence and pounced onto it. Forster’s kick drifted wide 3-27. However, it was short lived as Sandbach finished the half scoring in the corner after turning over the subsequent restart. With the conversion wide, the half time score was 8-27.
The second half started as the first one did, however, the momentum swung in favour of the home side. An obvious change in tactic by the more experienced pack was creating confusion in the Hoppers ranks and they were rewarded after the Sandbach lock barrelled over for the first home try. With the conversion wide, Hoppers still led 13-27. Hoppers struggled to recover and lost shape in defence. With both the scrum and lineout under pressure, Hoppers spent some time on the back foot, mostly in their own half. With the Sandbach pack piling on the pressure, Hoppers conceded a penalty and Sandbach took the points. With the lead now cut to 16-27, Sandbach sensed a comeback was on. However, Hoppers started to react and marshaled by the excellent Whyte, started to graft their way back into the Sandbach half of the field in the latter stages of the game. The game finished 16-27 to the visitors. Although the excellent first half performance won the game, the second half one was found wanting for Milton’s door.
Hoppers face Sandbach again this week at home in the league and should expect a challenging game against a now more confident opponent.
2nd XV: Shepherd, Beaty, Burns, Wardell, Lambert, Gage, Proctor, Birchall-Feeney, Whyte, Forster, Bevan, Woof, Reddick, H Swarbrick, J Swarbrick
Replacements: Sloane, Saleh, Horrocks