Burnage 0-59 Preston Grasshoppers
Hoppers made the trip to Burnage aiming to bounce back from their defeat by Alnwick at home last week. The travelling fans were not to be disappointed. The weather was overcast and damp at the start but with little or no breeze to hamper the kickers, conditions on the artificial surface were good for running rugby.
From the kick off Hoppers were dominant. Their pack announced their arrival by driving their hosts at will in the first scrum, something that was to be repeated over and over again throughout the match, whilst fast, accurate passing moves saw the backs slicing through the opposition lines time after time to log a total of nine un-answered tries securing an emphatic win despite their host’s dogged performance.
Trouble started early for the home side when, in the first minute, their full back attempted to call for a mark inside his own 5m line but dropped the ball in the process. Hoppers drove the scrum and Matt Lamprey secured the ball to cross the line to the side of the posts. Alex Ward then stepped up to kick the first of his seven successful conversions of the afternoon.
Burnage restarted but within two minutes Hoppers had doubled their tally as Jordan Dorrington broke from the half way line and, tearing through a startled defence, grounded the ball under the posts. Ward was accurate again and Hoppers were moving on, 0 – 14.
Things didn’t get better for Burnage as they were denied the ball and any chance of mounting a sustained attack. It was therefore almost inevitable that when Toby Harrison collected the ball inside his own 22 and gave it to Jacob Browne, this week playing at 14, the winger raced through several attempted tackles to then offload to Tyler Spence who completed the run into the Burnage 22. Hoppers then had a scrum and Sam Gale went over only to be held up on the line.
But the attack continued as Hoppers had a line-out on the 5m line. The pack drove over and the smiling face of Chris Taylor emerged from the bottom of the pile of bodies having scored the third try in fifteen minutes. Ward’s attempt at conversion was just wide of the upright but the score marched on to 0 – 19.
However, Burnage did not roll over and had their share of possession and attacks into the Preston half but were unable to break the Hoppers’ defence even when they were in the Red Zone.
Play was entertaining for the spectators as both teams had phases of fast passing play which served to alleviate what had developed into fairly miserable conditions as the rain became persistent.
There were several stoppages for injury, mainly to the Burnage players, who seemed to be struggling with assault Hoppers were inflicting on them.
From a line-out on half way, Sam Stott dodged a tackle and blazed towards the 22 where he passed to the supporting Dorrington to continue into the RedZone only for the ball to be lost into touch in the tackle.
Moments later a clearing kick was charged down and Toby Harrison dived for the line but once again his effort was held up by last-gasp defending.
Burnage did not have time to enjoy the denial of a further score as, within two minutes they were rocked by two more tries. The first came from yet another drive by the forwards which again took Taylor over the whitewash to secure the Bonus Point. The second was the result of superb link play from the backs to put Spence in space on his wing where he did what he usually does and left the opposition behind to score in the corner. Ward converted Taylor’s try but from wide on the wing his second kick floated past the post. 0 – 31.
Arnie had introduced some fresh faces into the team with the return of Alex Taylorson and the inclusion of Rob Bramhall, Josh Rourke and Declan Norrington in the side.
It was Norrington who announced his presence with a fast break through the centre to start another backs link-up play which took them to the Burnage 5m line. What looked like a further score was scuppered when Taylor was tackled into touch and the whistle blew for the end of the half.
Although Hoppers had been the better side, Burnage had had their own, albeit short, periods of possession in which they looked capable and with quick passing had made good metres into their visitors’ half, their efforts thwarted by their inability to break the Preston defence.
For their part, Hoppers had used the ball well. Their kicking and link-up play was as good as it had been this season and their secure handling had enabled them to penetrate the Burnage defence almost at will.
The second half began with heavy rain drenching everyone who ventured out of the shelter of the clubhouse.
Hoppers picked up where they had left off and were immediately inside the Burnage 22 with a deft chip forward from Ward. The ball found touch and the home side looked to clear from their line-out only for it to drop into the hands of Spence in acres of space inside his own 10m line. He raced forward into his opposition’s 22 where the forwards took over and drove to the 5m line. Ward collected the ball and dropped over the line under the posts. From the easiest of positions he converted his own try, the sixth of the game, and the score moved on to 0 – 38.
The final quarter of the match was interrupted several times with yellow cards to both sides and injuries necessitating changes to the teams, all adding more than a few minutes to what was now a depressing game for the home fans.
None of this affected the Hoppers’ play and the seventh try came on the fifty-eighth minute after a sublime side step from Harry Moulding allowed him to make ground and pass to Lamprey who was then fouled in the tackle. The resulting penalty allowed Taylor to complete his hat trick and Ward to add to his tally for the afternoon.
Play resumed and Hoppers continued their pressure on the Burnage 5m line. A series of penalties and line-outs for both sides had play moving back and forth mainly in the home side’s half until Rourke took the ball in his own 22 and having made good ground, he chipped forward and chased from his own 10m into the Burnage 22. Hoppers then secured the ball and with the forwards driving again it was Oga Mabaya’s turn to add to the score. Ward added the extras to make it 0 – 52 with ten minutes yet to go.
The final try was left to Gale, again converted by Ward and the score could have been extended further when Stott broke through from the Burnage 22 to touch down under the posts. Unfortunately, the try was denied because of a foot in touch on the way and at the final whistle the score stood at 0 – 59, the second victory to ‘nil’ of the season.
After the match Gareth Dyer was very satisfied with the performance:
‘I’m really pleased with the attitude after last week’s game. We wanted to make sure we came out and gave a performance we could be proud of and the intensity, the accuracy, all the things that were missing last week, we’ve worked hard on during training and I thought that was a decent performance today.
The lads who have come in have played well. That’s what we are about as a club and we’ve said to them if they train hard and do the business in the twos, they put their hand up and give us total commitment, then we’ll reward them.
Throughout the season so far we have already used almost forty players and I’m really proud of Declan, Alex and Josh who all had their first appearance today so let’s see if we can take that into next week.
Otley will be a totally different challenge but a lot of the good stuff we have instilled in the team and seen today we will need to have in abundance next Saturday’
The last match before the Christmas break looks like being a cracker with Otley mirroring the Hoppers score with a 0 – 59 win at Northwich and something of a point to prove for the home side after the early-season defeat at Cross Green.
Christmas lunch will be on and with the traditional carols with the club band after the game, the final match of this year should be a great start to the festive break so come down and get behind the lads to make sure of a very merry Christmas and New Year for all.
Report by John Le Page, picture by Mike Craig