After a run of improving performances not reflected in the final scoreline, Grasshoppers welcomed Fleetwood to Lightfoot Green aiming to secure their first victory of the season.
The match began with Fleetwood kicking off, Hopper’s received well but a poor kick out on the full gifted Fleetwood an attacking line-out platform. Hoppers defended the rolling maul twice, pushing Fleetwood back to win what should have been a great opportunity to clear their lines, only to lose the ball and watch as Fleetwood crossed the line for the first score.
Fears of defensive frailties proved unfounded as Hoppers took the restart cleanly in the left corner of their own 22. The props-masquerading-as-centres in Nuttall and Swarbrick provided ballast to set up clean ball in the centre of the park before it was spread wide to new boy Reece Rowland, who showed off his speed and agility to dance his way down the length of the pitch, past 5 would be tacklers on his way to score under the posts. DJ added the extras to make the score 7-5 after 15 minutes.
Fleetwood took a well converted penalty, then capitalised on a missed kick to touch from the restart to place an exquisite box kick for their wing to touch down in the corner. Hoppers almost replied immediately with a try built on good work at the breakdown by Nuttall and the vision of Ben Markland but unfortunately the referee ruled the final pass to be forward. Undeterred, Hoppers showed the benefits of training together; Captain Mortimer throwing back the years to burst up the pitch, recycling the ball quickly to Luke Jackson who made another 20 metres before eventually being dragged down – numerous defenders bouncing off with meaty thuds audible from the sideline. Quick ball allowed full back Fielding to scythe through the defence and score under the posts – fly-half Thomas Davies earning his second DoD nomination of the season for failing to add the extras after an alcohol-induced decision to use his boot as a tee.
The second half resumed with the scores 12-13 and as keenly contested as the first. 10 minutes in, Fleetwood kicked deep into Hoppers 22 from a scrum, Fielding ran the ball from deep – ably supported by Andile Kalane, who for once, had his shorts pulled up and covered a lot of ground to support. Runs from Parker and Clayton sucked in the defence and Ryan Flemming was able to take advantage of the space and finish under the posts.
In homage to our national team, a change of personnel and positions created confusion and Fleetwood, who up until this point were clearly on the backfoot, took their opportunities – scoring two tries in quick succession after players found themselves out of position and making silly mistakes. With 15 minutes to go, Hoppers now faced as 17-27 deficit, it is no understatement to say that the 5th’s of previous seasons would likely have collapsed, but with Jackson and Moorhen reinforcing the scrum Hoppers really took the game to Fleetwood.
Ernie Gegieckas showed a turn of speed more suited to a winger to finish under the posts, running through the middle of the field and handing-off several tackles to set up a thrilling final 10 minutes. Now camped within sight of the Fleetwood try line, the clock ticked down as they defended attempt after attempt. Davies and Swarbrick almost pulling off a 1-2 with offloads that would have made a Pacific-islander blush before putting a foot into touch. Several 5 metre line-outs went awry before Fleetwood got the ball, clearing to the half way line. Turned over in mid-field, good ground was gained by Wes Bradford and Swarbrick before the ball was spread wide for Rowland to complete his brace in the far corner. The most difficult kick of the game was needed for the win and unfortunately new 10 Markland couldn’t convert.
The score ended 27-27, to most onlookers a fair reflection of the game. Fleetwood demonstrated experience in the way they took their opportunities, but Hoppers will feel this was a game that should have been won by a large margin.
Motm: Reece Rowland
DoD: Thomas Davies