Hoppers 3rd XV 21-7 Wirral 2nd XV
This week’s Lighting and Building Services Jug quarter finals saw Hoppers’ 3rd XV host Wirral 2nd XV. Going into the game, both teams found themselves locked together in the league on 26 points. With only a points difference of 2 separating the sides this was set to be a close game. Unfortunately for both teams the weather did not get the message.
The remnants of hurricane Abigail made for a bleak, cold and damp afternoon which looked set to curtail any thoughts of an open, expansive game. The 3rds were able to field a similar side to the one that were victorious last week, with Wayne Steel a late dropout, the old stagers joints struggling to adapt with the drop in temperature.
Wirral kicked off and straight away put pressure on Hoppers. With only Wilmslow having conceded fewer points than Hoppers, it came as a bit of a shock when the Wirral fly half evaded a couple of tackles and unlocked Hoppers usually effective blitz defensive with a neat grubber kick enabling Wirral to score under the posts. 2 minutes in and 7-0 nil down. Morton, Heath and Peterson stepped in to rally the troops, only time would tell if their words would have an effect.
Despite the conditions the game continued with intensity. The Hoppers forwards were making steady inroads in the tight but the Wirral back 3 were causing problems in the loose, returning kicked balls with interest. All this running was too much for Deaks who retired with a hamstring injury. A quick shuffle saw Shakes move to 15. It was clear to Hoppers that with the conditions and the lightweight look of a mobile Wirral pack that a tight game should be adopted.
With about 15 minutes on the clock, Hoppers finally started to find some rhythm. From a penalty, Peterson elected to go for touch. The lineout was good and the ever trusty Hoppers maul machine roared into life. It’s not pretty but it’s pretty bloody effective. Led by Dunc, Copper and Morton, the maul were eating up ground. Similar to the week before some of the backs, feeling feel left out of all the fun, elected to join said maul. The extra mass from the backs leaning on made all the difference and suddenly Hoppers found themselves over the line. Copper the last one up I think! A lovely conversion from Peterson brought the home side level.
The rest of the half continued in the same nip and tuck fashion. Both teams testing each others defensive capability and both backrows were being stretched to the limit. The Wirral fly half was having an effective game with the boot pushing Hoppers back into their own terrortory regularly.
A couple of good breaks in midfield from Luke Mills and Jason Brisbane helped pave the way into the Wirral half but each time the poor conditions thwarted the final pass. In the last play of the half, a Peterson miss pass put Taylor through a gap in the defence. In support and for some reason stood out on the wing (taking a breather probably) was his centre partner in crime Al Howarth. A nice pass and a delightful shimmy took Howarth close to the line before riding a couple of tackles and offloading to Morton who, always aware of his surroundings, spun on a sixpence like something from Swan Lake to offload to Ben Lock who stepped past the last tackler to score. Peterson converted to take the score to 14-7. A lovely move well executed in abysmal conditions and a good time to take the lead.
The team talk that followed was pretty much the standard generic rugby team half time team talk, discipline, basics etc. The second half began and the weight difference between the two packs was beginning to tell with Hoppers finding the ascendency. Morton was on his A game again putting a clever grubber kick in behind the Wirral defence. Some sterling breakdown work from the Hoppers forwards was starting to disrupt the Wirral ball and limit the attacking options, even the several hundred quick lineout attempts were not going to plan for the visitors.
The Hoppers set piece was equally pretty much flawless throughout the game, which in the conditions was impressive. Special mentions to McGuire for throwing in straight (all bar one?), Riggers for winning all his own ball and some of theirs and to Marcus for clearing up at the back of the lineout stealing numerous Wirral throws.
It wasn’t long before Hoppers extended their lead. The home pack driving over from a 5m scrum allowing Mills to touch down. Another beauty of a conversion took the lead to 21-7. From the kick off the remainder of the game ebbed and flowed, Brisbane busy trying to dismember anything that came within his 3m danger zone proximity. A couple of big hits again disrupting Wirral ball. A rather dodgy cross field kick from Taylor had the crowd and most of the Hoppers forwards holding their breath. Fortunately Jason and Dunc were on hand to clear up my mess, what Duncan was doing out there nobody knows. With most of the backs suffering from hypothermia the referee brought the game to an end giving the 3rd XV a well-earned victory against a dogged Wirral side. On a dry day that would have been quite an entertaining fixture.
The 3rd’s progress into the hat for the Semi-Final draw which will be made this week.
Report by Ben Taylor