Saturday saw Hoppers’ promotion credentials suffer a blow at the hands of a strong Broughton Park 2nd team.
First off, the main bone of contention… weather. As a back I am pretty soft, when I am not playing rugby I like filing my nails, making daisy chains etc. I think most of the backs were slightly bemused that the game was declared on, bemusement turned to horror, however, when the warm up began. Obviously not being there to witness it, I can only speculate that the conditions were akin to that of the battle of the Passchendaele and to modify a quote from Lieutenant Siegfried Sassoon – November 1918’ “I played in hell”. To those old boys who think rugby union is getting soft then I can assure you it is not.
The only noticeable omission from the squad this week was Hopper’s stalwart and ever present fly half Tom Peterson, who pulled his calf in training. Taylor moved to stand off, Adam Saleh retained his newfound berth at five eight and Alan Howarth returned to 12.
Hoppers kicked off and it was clear this was going to be a nip and tuck game in atrocious conditions. Broughton Park had the lion’s share of possession early on, combining a mixture of their trademark ‘missile’ ball with some expansive rugby that was asking a lot of questions of the Hoppers defence. It didn’t take long before the pacey Broughton Park backs unlocked the Hopper’s defence, breaking away down the right to score a well worked try. 7-0 down and Hoppers knew they had a real game on their hands.
After the initial shock of a step up in pace and intensity, Hoppers began to get a foothold in the game. The Hoppers forward were securing good ball and were making yards through tight play and the direct lines of centres Howarth and Saleh. The conditions were making it nigh on impossible to play any sort of expansive game and each time Hoppers got close to the Broughton Park line the ball was invariably spilled in the tackle or knocked on. Broughton Park were only too happy to return the ball through their backs before ultimately they also ended up spilling the ball or knocking on.
The backrow of Mawdsley, Mollinga and Beattie were doing a job in the loose and accompanied by the rest of the forwards, notably Lightfoot, secured turn over ball on a number of occasions. Rigbye was again doing valuable work in the lineout with some impressive takes even though it was probably easier to catch a bar of soap in a Turkish bath. After 25 minutes Hoppers eventually battered their way through the Broughton Park pack and over the line. Richard Morton going over for the score from close in. Taylor converted to make it 7 all.
With a hefty tail wind behind them Hoppers continued in the ascendency for most of the 1st half but unfortunately were not able to extend their lead. The referee brought the half to a close as the heavens opened for the 24th time, proceeded by a gale force 9 wind and a wind chill of close to 0 degrees Kelvin. Both captains were called to discuss whether to continue in such bleak conditions. Unfortunately for the backs Captain Lightfoot, being a notably hard man, shrugged his shoulders and so the game continued.
With the scores level the away team now had the wind behind them and with it the ability to pin Hoppers back at will through their experienced fly half. Unfortunately by this point Hoppers had lost the classy McGuire who was playing at scrum half this week. Step in Rich Morton, probably the greatest utility player in the history of Hoppers 3’s. By the end of the game he had done stints at prop, backrow, scrum half and inside centre, including another fine box kick which unlike all the other weeks was actually done in his capacity as scrum half and not prop. Anyway back to the game.
Hoppers spent a large part of the second period camped in their own half and the visiting pack was asking questions of the Hopper’s defence. More ‘missile’ ball was sucking the home team’s defence closer to the break down before quick ball to the backs gave them a considerable overlap, which they duly capitalised on, scoring to the left. The fly half converted to make it 14-7.
This seemed to rile Hoppers who haven’t often found themselves behind in games this season. With no sense of feeling in their limbs, Shakespeare and Procter made a couple of useful breaks. Adam Saleh by now had joined the pack as an honorary forward and all the yards were being made through the fringes of the breakdown. After several phases, Hoppers broke again through Mawdsley who evaded several would be tacklers to give a smart off load to the supporting Rigbye who belly-flopped over to score. Vitally, Taylor missed what should have been a straightforward conversion. 14-12 with 10 minutes on the clock.
Could the Hoppers grab another one as the game drew to a close? It was not meant to be and by now just about everyone had hypothermia. Pinned back again and in a repeat of their second try ‘Park’ extended their lead through several tight phases before releasing the backs who, with acres of space, stepped through to score. 21-12. Despite another late rally that’s how it stayed. The final whistle went and Broughton Park jubilantly celebrated a hard fought win.
It was a tough result for Hoppers who gave it everything. Everyone from 1-18 put in a quality shift against much tougher opposition than expected in conditions, which were simply ridiculous. So a fair game and fair result in challenging circumstances.
The match day photographer captured the solemn, lonely figure of Coach Peterson trudging in from Pitch 2.