Preston Grasshoppers 26 – 26 Wharfedale
The weather, in contrast to last week’s howling wind at Dore Moor, was calm, sunny and cold. So it was a typical January day as the teams came out to line up for a minute’s silence in memory of Sep Cooper, Steve Mawdsley and Mick Smith, long time Hoppers’ stalwart who sadly passed away this week.
The match had been delayed owing to the referee being held up in traffic but finally started twenty minutes later than the advertised 2.30 kick off.
Wharfedale opened proceedings with a kick deep into the Hoppers’ 22 where they gained the first scrum of the match. They secured the ball and pressed for the line but a tackle by Ryan Carlson, the first of many important clashes he made, allowed Hoppers to clear to half way.
Then Wharfedale were awarded a penalty fifteen metres into the Hoppers’ half and fly-half Blakeney-Edwards wasted no time in slotting the first of his four penalty kicks of the afternoon.
Hoppers immediately responded and a break from inside his own half by Jake Squirrell took them deep into the Wharfedale 22. They managed to clear but the kick only made it to their own 10m line and from the lineout Hoppers were awarded a penalty kick and Tom Davidson sent play back into the red zone.
Chris Taylor collected the ball from the lineout and broke towards the 5m line where a pass to the supporting Scott Jordan dropped just short and possession was surrendered to a knock-on.
Hoppers piled on the pressure and when Wharfedale secured the ball from their scrum the clearing kicker was tackled and the ball sliced only gaining them a few metres.
From the lineout Hoppers’ backs put together a series of quick handling moves attacking across the 22 where, after a number of phases, they were awarded a penalty in front of the posts.
Davidson, captain today, opted to kick for goal and after ten minutes of fairly frenzied play, the score was levelled at 3 – 3.
Play resumed and Wharfedale spent the next five minutes battling back and forth across the pitch in the Hoppers’ final third. The watch was stopped for some minutes whilst Ally Murray received treatment to a fairly bloody injury to his mouth but as usual, he was OK and the match continued.
The visitors had a lineout on the Hoppers’ 5m line and began to drive for the line only to be halted and then pushed back by their hosts’ counter- drive which resulted in a turn-over and a clearing kick to touch beyond the 22.
But the assistant referee then made a contribution as he had noticed something and the clock was stopped again as the referee, Mr Davies, had a chat to Murray and Wharfedale were awarded another penalty on the Hoppers’ 5m line.
They made to drive the line and for some time it seemed a try was inevitable but the home defence was strong and despite several attempts to score Wharfedale were thwarted when what appeared to be a try was deemed to have been held up and they all trotted back for the scrum.
Once again the Hoppers’ defence proved capable and they were given a penalty which Davidson kicked to touch just short of their visitors’ 10m line.
Hoppers were now on the attack and a break by Carlson, shrugging off tackles, made several metres to start a backs’ run towards the 22. A kick-pass from Davidson to the wing would have put the racing Jordan Dorrington in with ease but agonisingly, the ball just went out on the full and play was brought back.
The Wharfedale lineout was long and was pounced upon by the home team. It was passed out to Jacob Browne who, from forty yards out kicked towards the try line and then outstripped his opposition to get to it only to be tackled without the ball before he could ground it.
The referee seemed not to see the offence but thankfully his assistant pointed out the crime and after due discussion, with the clock off again, Hoppers were awarded a penalty try and Wharfedale’s number 4, Borrill was sent for ten minutes rest.
From the restart, with the Hoppers’ forwards making ground, Wharfedale were able to steal the ball and kick deep into their hosts’ 22. A sprinting Browne got to it first but in the forwards’ battle Wharfedale were awarded another penalty despite some vigorous counter-rucking from Taylor.
Play then continued inside the Hoppers’ 22 with phases across the field which, after several minutes resulted in another penalty for the visitors in front of the posts which pulled the score back to 10 – 6.
Play then became more open and for the last ten minutes of the half Hoppers gained some control, moving the ball from one wing to the other with a clear break by Jordan making ground into the 22.
Their efforts were rewarded with a penalty when Wharfedale were spotted offside and Davidson’s kick in front of the posts to push the score on to 13 – 6 was the last action of a half which had been almost fifty minutes long!
Whilst the teams had been fairly evenly matched, the penalty try had given the home side impetous and they had built on that for the rest of the half. Wharfedale had put phases together but had been unable to break the Hoppers’ defensive line and their hosts finished half with some control of the game.
Things changed early in the second half when Wharfedale broke to the Hoppers’ 22 and were awarded penalties which despite good defence resulted in them gaining another three points. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Hoppers were then reduced to fourteen when Taylor’s tackle was adjudged to have been a deliberate knock-down and he was shown a yellow card.
However, the home side were not phased and despite the one man disadvantage, they scored their second try when Alex Hurst intercepted a loose pass on his own 22 and raced downfield leaving the defenders trailing to score under the posts. Davidson had no problems and Hoppers took what looked like a comfortable lead of 20 – 9 after just ten minutes of the second period.
Wharfedale restarted and Murray secured the kick, passing to Sam Wallbank, playing at number eight today, who broke to the 22. Wharfedale defended and got back towards the half way line but fell foul of the referee and Hoppers were given a penalty just inside their own half.
A confident Davidson stepped up to take the long kick for goal and again parted the posts. The supporters may have been beginning to think of taking serious points from this game.
As play moved into the Hoppers’ final third Wharfedale were given a penalty in front of goal to move the score on to 26 – 12.
Hoppers’ restart resulted in a knock-on inside the 22 and from the scrum, last week’s man of the match Noah Miller, was helped off with what looked like a painful leg injury. But Hoppers had their own penalty and again Davidson redressed the three points Wharfedale had worked hard to gain.
The last quarter of the match saw the score narrowing as Wharfedale had another three point penalty and then scored a try of their own to narrow the lead to seven points with less than ten minutes remaining.
Hoppers were camped inside the Wharfedale 22 for much of the time and although they were pushed back they had a penalty inside their opposition’s 10m line. This time however, Davidson’s kick curled just past the post and the score remained 26 – 19.
Wharfedale responded and when Toby Harrison was shown a yellow card for what the referee deemed to be another deliberate knock-down, Hoppers were under pressure inside their own 22.
A raft of penalties awarded to the visitors ensured they were able to keep their attacks going and with the clock well into the red they finally got their second try. The conversion levelled the score and the referee was then satisfied that time was up. Hoppers 26 – Wharfedale 26.
Arnie was very frustrated:
‘We played well. We know the position we are in and the points we need to stay alive in this league and it’s disappointing to only pick up two. I thought the defence was outstanding today and we stopped their driving lineout but the 50-50 decisions just seemed to go against us. When you’re down you need to make your own luck.
We have to keep on working. Everyone is trying their hardest to get out of this position and once again the attitude of all the players was excellent. I was particularly impressed with Ben Dorrington and it was good to have Hursty back in the side.’
Next week we make the short trip over the Pennines to Huddersfield who are also not having the best of seasons and once again there is a possibility of points to be had.
The 1869 club are taking a coach and rumour has it that a new hostelry has been identified for the lunchtime stop so sign up and keep supporting the lads as they continue their efforts.
Report by John Le Page, pictures by Mike Craig