Hoppers vs Hull Ionians

Date: 01 December 2018

Preston Grasshoppers 29 – 7 Hull Ionians

What a difference a week makes! If last Saturday was a ‘bad day at the office’, today was the ‘champagne office party’ against the established league leaders.

In wet, murky conditions, Hull kicked off and were soon under attack as the Hoppers’ forwards moved the ball through phases to the visitors’ 10m line and on towards their 22 where only a knock-on halted their momentum.

Relief for the visitors was short lived however as Hull got their first taste of what was to come when the Hoppers’ pack drove the first and then the second scrum towards the line where James Gough picked up and passed to Matt Lamprey who made good ground before returning the pass for Gough to score the first try.

Tom Davidson stroked the ball home and after six minutes Hoppers were in the lead much to the delight, and possible surprise, of the crowd.

Hull restarted and were immediately forced back to the halfway line by a series of quick passing moves by the Hoppers’ forwards. Another knock-on gave the visitors’ a scrum but their hosts were awarded a free kick and opted for the scrum again. Gough received the ball and put through a delightfully weighted chip for Ally Murray to collect. He made ten metres before passing to Rouban Birch to score under the posts. Davidson placed the ball but as he started his run up it fell off the tee and his attempt to chip it over missed. With only ten minutes gone the score was 12 – 0.

Hull then responded and from the restart pressed the Hoppers’ line. They were awarded a scrum in front of the posts and despite being driven by the Hoppers’ pack, won a penalty and a lineout on the Preston 5m line. They pressed on and number seven, Sanderson, crossed the line. The conversion by Minikin was good and the score stood at 12 – 7.

The home crowd may have been thinking, ‘Here we go again….’ but their team then put on a display not seen thus far this season. With confident forward play protecting the ball and going through the phases, Lamprey was released and made twenty metres.

Then from a Preston lineout ten metres from the Hull try line Luke Proctor drove over for the third Hoppers’ try. The conversion was good and the score was extended to 19 – 7 with only a quarter of the match gone.

It was then the turn of the backs to make the play and with Ionians attacking the Hoppers’ 22m line, a try-saving tackle from winger Tyler Spence started a move which advanced the home side to the Hull 22m. A series of quick handling moves then put him over the line only for the try to be disallowed because of a forward pass.

From the scrum on their own 5m line, Hull gained a penalty but the kick only moved them to their own 22. They won the ball and a fast break from Minikin took them to the Preston 22 where another try-saving tackle from Spence and a penalty to the hosts moved play back to the half way line.

Then a fast break from Conor Truman, passing to Sam Stott and on to James Gough, took them to within 5m of the Hull try line and a scrum just left of the opposition posts. The ball was won, the pass to Spence was good and he crossed the for the bonus-point try. Davidson again stepped up and for once, the goal kicking gods were on Tom’s side as his kick, not for the first time this season, glanced the post but to the relief of the home followers, was deflected in on the right side.

Now the Hoppers’ pack were dominating the game, controlling the ball and ruthlessly pushing their opponents up the field supported by the backs who, with fast pace and quick handling, kept the league leaders under pressure. A lineout drive led to a scrum fifteen metres from the Ionians’ line and a penalty in front of the posts. On the stroke of half time the ball sailed through and the teams went in with the score a healthy 29 -7.

With five tries in the first half, the crowd may have been expecting a points glut in the second forty minutes. However, Hull are not the league leaders for nothing and despite being totally dominated by the Hoppers’ forwards in the scrum, lineout and driving maul, they managed to hold any further scores at bay.

The game continued to ebb and flow and the visitors had several attacks inside the Preston 22m line but such was the confidence of the home side the defence was solid and all their efforts to score were effectively repulsed.

Even when Hoppers were reduced to fourteen men as James Fitzpatrick was shown a yellow card on sixty minutes, Hull could not capitalize and the scoreboard was not troubled again.

With seven minutes to go

Captain PJ Millea was helped off in a fairly groggy state after his break out run resulted in a very heavy collision, his place was taken by Luke Proctor.

Then Hoppers showed their ability to shut out the win by keeping possession, playing pick-and-go moves and denying their visitors any ball. They continued to run down the clock until a lineout drive on their own 22m line ate up the final seconds and Gough’s kick to touch sealed the victory.

A very happy Paul Arnold praised a real whole-team effort.

“That was a great performance after last week’s massive defeat. We asked for a performance and the team gave us one. They kept control and dominated them throughout the match and they only managed to spend any significant time in our half in the last ten minutes.

I hope our supporters don’t get too carried away. This was a real display of what this team is capable of but we have another serious challenge next week. However, I am proud of all the team. This was a ‘full-on’ performance and it will boost their belief in their ability to beat sides.”

The day’s success was further boosted by a 14 – 8 win from the 2nd XV away at Vale of Lune.

Next week we go to Stourbridge who were well beaten by Otley today and sit three places below us at twelfth in the table. We should not expect an easy victory but on today’s performance no-one should be surprised by a win.

Report by John Le Page, picture by Mike Craig

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