Hoppers 3s Take One Step Closer
If anyone was unsure as to the definition of the word ‘tenacious’ then look no further than Hoppers’ 3s and the hallowed turf of Pitch 2 at Lightfoot Green.
This week’s instalment comes straight from the thick of the action where Hoppers’ 3s took on Burnage 2s. Last week’s tough encounter at Macc took its toll on Hoppers who were sporting a somewhat different makeup from previous weeks. Out went Sandsy, Morton, Steely, Proccy, Leemers and Wardy. Welcome returns for Jacob Shep, Mick Leeming, Ben Hackett, Ben Muprhy, Brisbane the Beast and the much anticipated 3rd team debut of the Latvian Lion Heart Kaspars Brezinskis.
Before the kick off, it was already clear who was this week’s man of the match and that was the Hoppers groundsman. What a difference a week of dry weather makes. The pitch was in great condition given the battering it has taken over the last couple of months. For the first time I can remember the sun was shining and the conditions were perfect for what turned out to be a great, well matched game of rugby.
Burnage elected to take the kick off. From the off it was clear they meant business. It didn’t take a rugby fanatic to observe that Burnage clearly had the upper hand at the set piece. Whereas in previous weeks it was the Hoppers rolling maul doing all the damage, this week it was time to take some of the dreaded ‘own medicine’. Burnage were eating up the yards quicker than last year’s grand national winner ‘Many Clouds’ (ironically there were no clouds around!). Despite some staunch defence Burnage took the lead after 15 minutes following a good line off some good Burnage phase play.
The mood beneath the posts seemed somewhat lethargic and I don’t think it had yet dawned on Hoppers the level of effort that was going to be required if we were to take something from this game. It wasn’t all doom and gloom however as it appeared that Hoppers might have a chance if they could keep a fluid game plan and move the ball away from contact… the polar opposite to what we have come to rely upon this season.
The game was being played at a considerable pace. In the loose, Hoppers made some good yards, Kaspers showing a few glimmers of his pace and promise. Alas any yards Hoppers made were being returned with interest by a useful looking Burnage side. Arguably against the run of play, Hoppers managed to capitalise from a not so solid platform inside their own 22. Terry McGuire putting Taylor (B) into space before feeding his brother Taylor (J) who made 50m before drawing the full back and offloading to Ben Hackett who did well to beat the last covering defender scoring in the corner. A difficult conversion just fell short. 7-5 to the visitors.
For the remainder of the half Burnage continued to take the game to Hoppers. The Burnage backs were asking testing questions of the Hoppers defence which held firm. The Burnage set piece was really causing Hoppers problems and it needed some experience and intelligence to disengage the driving maul in an attempt to bring it down. This coupled with a tactical decision to put Brisbane the Beast into the second row helped sure up and the scrum and ultimately put Hoppers back in the game.
With the last play of the half, not content to go in 2 points down Hoppers signalled their intent launching a final attack. Howarth breaking through in the centres, the forwards recycling quick ball to launch another phased attack before it petered out and a knock on brought the end of a high tempo first half to an end.
The message from El capitan Peterson was clear ‘up the tempo and stretch the play’, it was just whether or not the troops could stick to the task in hand.
Not long into the second half from the base of the scrum Peterson ‘jacked the play’ (that means switch the play forwards) creating some space behind the Burnage defence. Some nice link play between the half backs put Taylor (J) into some space, the young centre barrelling over in the corner for the second time in consecutive weeks. Peterson struck a wonderful conversion from the touch line. Hoppers now 12-7 up.
It didn’t take long for Burnage to reply. Despite upping the intensity in defence, Hoppers ill-discipline was costing them possession and territory. From a series of pick and drives the Burnage pack eventually made it over the whitewash. A straight forward conversion levelled the scores 12-12. For the second time in as many weeks Hoppers were locked in a tense game that could see either side going on to claim the win for themselves.
Hoppers were starting to find space in the loose now against a tiring Burnage pack, fresh legs in the form of young James Wood and Ben Murphy helped maintain momentum. Some good running by Saleh and Shep out wide gave Hoppers field position to try and retake the lead. From an ensuing scrum Terry called a vintage 3rd team move, one that has been in operation longer than some of the youngsters in today’s match day squad. A move which had already been used to good effect several times. As the Burnage pack applied a bit of pressure the scrum began to wheel, spotting his opportunity Terry picked up drawing in the back row before off-loading to Taylor (B). Rolling back the years the veteran utility back stepped the winger before drawing the full back and passing out wide to Horrocks who put the after burners on to go in at the corner. Another worldie of a conversion from Peterson made it 19-12 to the home team with 20 mins to go.
It was now time for Burnage to up the intensity, throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at the home team. A poor clearance kick was charged down by the Burnage winger who took full advantage before being brought down by a good covering tackle from Ben. With Burnage flooding forward in there droves, Hoppers were being sucked in to the breakdown exposing a big overlap out wide. With hearts in mouths, the ball was moved wide, Horrocks in attempting to take man and ball (a lot more ball than man!) conceded a deliberate knock on and a yellow card for his troubles. Hoppers now down to 14 and the task of keeping Burnage out just got harder.
The Hoppers defence by now was working double shift Sunday pay overtime. Notable try savings tackles coming from Howarth, Taylor (J) and I am sure others were flying in all over the park. The Beast and his partner in crime Copper were doing their best to disrupt Burnage ball and force errors with some no nonsense defending. The stiff arm of Marcus Mollinga once again being felt at full effect from those unlucky enough to find his range. Each time Burnage went close Hoppers were able to turn the ball over and clear their lines. Hoppers did have a chance to extend their lead after winning a penalty in a rare foray into the Burnage half. The conversion was sweetly struck but alas came back off the post and Burnage breathed a sigh of relief knowing they still only needed a converted try to draw level.
With Horrocks back on the pitch, Hoppers were buoyed to have a full complement of players. Unfortunately this lasted about a minute before more pressure from Burnage led to Taylor (B) getting himself on the wrong side of the ball and the wrong side of the referee getting sin binned and leaving his team mates with a mountain to climb. With 9 minutes remaining and back down to 14 men could the resolute Hoppers defence hold out? I am delighted to say that whilst I was busy swigging gin & toniique, talking to the Mrs on the side lines, every single Hoppers player from 1-14 was defending as though their lives depended on it. It was a colossal effort and it made me proud to be part of this 3rd team. Bodies were being put on the line, unfortunately Alan Howarth had to retire after a series of solid hits, the last one being made with his head. Besty coming back onto to bolster the defensive effort. With the seconds counting down, the game and potentially Hoppers promotion credentials hung in the balance. Burnage were now battering down the Hoppers’ door. Like a trusty sh*thouse door creaking at the hinges and splintering at the edges Burnage were just not able to break it down. Eventually Copper forced a penalty for holding on and it gives me much pleasure (and relief) to report that Peterson kick the ball out of play to wrap up the match. Another big win for the 3s and one that made the beers later on taste so much sweeter.
People always ask me how I remember so much of the game… Lads it’s not that hard when you are the heart of the game and perhaps more so when you spend a lot of time in the sin bin.
Reporting from this week’s pseudo back row position of scrum half, B Taylor.
Preston Grasshoppers 19-12 Burnage