Chester 37-31 Preston Grasshoppers
After an outstanding performance against Otley last week, the team went to Chester with some confidence. With some regular players unavailable and others returning, it was a different side that took to the field at Hare Lane. New signing, Jake Maher took the 12 jersey and on the bench for his first outing, Tom Lee.
The day was bitterly cold with a noticeable breeze as the teams ran out onto the AGP.
Chester kicked off deep into the Hoppers’ 22 and were immediately awarded a scrum as the ball was lost forward on receipt. Before the visitors had woken up the ball was fed out to the wing and Ivory scored in the corner.
The conversion attempt by fly-half Reeve hit the upright but bounced through giving the home side the first points on the board, 7 – 0.
Then it was the inevitable kicking exchange until the ball was taken by Chester only to be lost by a massive counter ruck which resulted in a scrum to the visitors.
Hoppers came away with the ball but a Chester interception caused a knock-on and Hoppers were given a penalty on half way.
The lads then seemed to click as a break by Ben Pearson started a passing move which took Jacob Browne towards the 22 where he then fed Tyler Spence only for the ball to be lost forward in the tackle.
Undaunted, Hoppers began another break, this time Will Hunt made the initial run again supported by Browne. The ball was passed out to Will Clapham who crossed in the corner. Hunt’s attempt at conversion fell short and the game restarted at 7 – 5.
Chester regrouped and gained a penalty just inside their visitors’ half. Reeve backed himself from directly in front of the posts and slotted the kick to add the three. 10 – 5.
Two minutes later Chester went further ahead when full back, Long found himself on the end of a fast passing attack to score just right of the post. Again, Reeve was on target and Chester eased into a comfortable lead, 17 – 5.
The travelling supporters must have been somewhat concerned as Chester seemed, at this point, to be able to dodge or break through tackles at will and things did not improve for the faithful as, from the restart, which went out on the full, the home side secured the ball, gained a lineout, then drove into the Hoppers’ 22 where Ivory scored his second try just left of the post. With the easy conversion the score moved on to 24 – 5.
With three quarters of the match still to play, it looked like the lads were heading for a real beating. However, Hoppers are made of sterner stuff and a break from Ben Dorrington, this week starting at seven, took the play from half way down to the 22 and a scrum which yielded a penalty and a lineout 15m from the Chester line.
Hoppers drove their opponents and after three attempts on the line it was Dorrington who touched down in the corner. Hunt made the extras and the scoreboard moved on to 24 – 12.
Tackling still seemed to be problematic for Hoppers as Chester broke through time and again. With less than ten minutes of the half left, they added to their tally when a dodging run by inside-half, Holloway, secured the Bonus Point Try and as the teams went to the sheds, the score stood at 31 – 12.
Chester had had most of the possession and had looked dangerous each time they attacked. Hoppers had been unable to contain their hosts as so many of their tackles seemed ineffectual. They had a real mountain to climb if the match was to be recovered.
They started the second period but were immediately under pressure as a kick-and-chase by the Chester winger took play into the Hoppers’ Red Zone and the start of a series of relentless attacks by the home forwards.
The defence held out and for twenty minutes the visitors kept their hosts at bay. There was a short period of rest as Dorrington was treated on the field for an ankle injury and Tom Lee came on to replace Pearson at full back.
Then Chester suffered a yellow card when their 7, Baxter, was sent to the naughty step. Hoppers wasted no time in taking the advantage.
Suddenly, they were much more active as they battled through the Chester defence, led by Scott Richardson who crossed by the post. But the adrenalin rush got the better of Hunt who, in his hurry to get play swiftly under way, hit the post. 31 – 17.
Hoppers were now on the rampage and five minutes later Dorrington sealed the Bonus Point Try with his second of the match and this time Hunt was on target, 31 – 24.
With the travelling supporters heartened by the possibility of another comeback win, the home side pressed on. The gremlin of penalties then raised its head again and Chester had three in the space of five minutes. Only two actually added points but with the score now at 37 – 24 and only three minutes remaining things did not look too rosy for the faithful.
The lads had other ideas though and a chip pass by Hunt to Browne took the play down towards the Chester line and when Clapham was fouled as he went for the try, Hoppers were awarded a Penalty Try which took the score to within a converted try, 37 – 31.
Sadly, time was not on the Hoppers’ side and Chester held on until the final whistle to take the match, 37 – 31.
Speaking to Club Captain, Ally Murray, after the game, he said, “Sum up the match in three words” My reply was, “Poor first twenty”.
“Yes, we seem to have short periods in every match where we lose focus and suffer as a result. Our performances over the last three or four games have improved greatly, resulting in the outstanding win last week but we do need to switch on quicker and concentrate.”
Nevertheless, two more Bonus Points are in the bag and with the next two fixtures at home against Tyndale and Harrogate, there may be more for the taking. It’s not yet certain how many teams will be relegated this season but with Chester telling us they are fairly convinced they will be moved into the Midlands and SW League, our position at third from the foot of the table is precarious as Huddersfield, who sit just above us, have ten points more which will be difficult to overtake without some good wins for us and losses for them.
So, support for the team is vital and with two home games in succession, this is the time to get out and give your backing to the lads. Up The Hoppers!
Report by John Le Page, pictures by Mike Craig