Preston Grasshoppers 31 – 36 Sedgley Park
A fast-paced, physical and entertaining game saw Hoppers facing their first really stern opposition of the season in Sedgley Park who finished second in the league last year.
The team were led onto the field by the hugely popular Oga Mabaya who was given a deserved round of applause as he made his 100th appearance in a first team jersey.
From the kick off Hoppers struggled to gain and retain possession with Sedgley winning early ball and running swiftly through several phases, earning a scrum inside the home 22. Again they seized the ball and powered downfield to be rewarded by another scrum on the Hoppers’ 10m line resulting in a try under the posts for Sedgley number two, Danny Maher which was quickly converted by Oli Glasse.
The restart had Hoppers attacking the Sedgley try line and a ‘brick-wall’ charge down from Tyler Spence enabled the pack to apply continuous pressure to the defending side and Scott Jordan to dart over the line. The conversion by Tom Davidson was good and with eight minutes played, the score was 7-7.
Sedgley kicked the restart deep into the Hoppers’ half and from a penalty ten metres out, sent number 1 Mike Ashcroft over for their second try of the afternoon.
The opposition’s onslaught continued with a penetrating run from the restart by full back Andy Riley from which Sedgley had a scrum short of the Hoppers’ line. A breakaway by Maher enabled him to score under the posts and this time Glasse’s conversion was good.
With the visitors dominating the game, Hoppers were constantly having to defend attack after attack with no time on the ball as the opposition were so much quicker through the phases, moving the ball and gaining ground.
Hoppers stuck to their task and finally won the ball only for a kick to touch to go out on the full. Sedgley won the line-out and Glasse crossed the line again, converted his own try and the score stood at 7-26 with three quarters of the game still to play.
From the restart Hoppers were at last able to make some progress. A series of penalties took them from their own 10m line to the Sedgley 22, on to within 10m of the line, then down to the 5m line and a scrum. They won the ball and James Gough battled over but his attempt was deemed to have been held up.
Once again the scrum was formed and once again Hoppers won the ball. This time James Fitzpatrick broke forward short of the line and with an acrobatic turn in mid-air, grounded the ball and the try was given, Davidson confidently added the extras.
Hoppers were now on the attack and a long run by Conor Trueman from the Preston 10m line had the forwards pressing the Sedgley defence with a series of slick moves only to be stopped by a tip pass that went forward.
Sedgley recovered their composure and the half ended with a missed attempt on goal by Glasse. The teams went in with the score 14-26.
Hoppers began the second half with a new impetus, possibly due to a quiet half-time discussion in the changing room.
From the kick off they were pushing deep into the Sedgley half and from a penalty which resulted in a 5m line-out they drove the line only to be denied the try which was held up again.
Unfazed, they won the ball from the scrum and this time the try from captain Millea was given and the conversion from Davidson was good.
Hoppers continued to challenge the Sedgley forwards and a searing run from number six Ali Murray had them pressing the visitors’ ten metre line only for the attack to be stopped by a leg injury to Scott Jordan which, after several minutes of treatment on the field, saw him stretchered off to hospital. He was replaced by Jack Akrigg.
A long series of scrums deep in the Sedgley half saw Hoppers dominating but failing to gain possession of the ball. They were awarded a penalty and from the line-out on the Sedgley 22, drove to within five metres of the line, secured the ball from a scrum and then a display of fast, accurate passing from the forwards saw Matt Lamprey feed James Gough on to Sam Stott who finished the move with a copybook try. Davidson again converted and now the Hoppers took the lead 28-26 with a quarter of the match to go.
Play continued with Hoppers winning penalties and scrums but unable to secure and maintain possession. The game turned on a sequence of very quick phases from Sedgley resulting in a penalty on the Preston 5m line. From the scrum, they won the ball and Maher crossed the line for his hat-trick of tries which was successfully converted by Glasse.
As the clock ran down, there were penalties awarded to both teams without either making any real progress and in the 77 minute Hoppers’ Fitzpatrick was yellow carded for foul play.
Despite being a man down, Hoppers converted a penalty to make the score 31-36 but as the game drew to a close the loss of Sedgley’s prop, Coe, resulted in uncontested scrums and the match ended with a two point defeat for the home side.
In his interview after the match, Head Coach Paul Arnold, exhilerated after completing a full game, said he was disappointed by the first 20 minutes where, although at home, the side allowed Sedgley to dominate. “I thought we gave them too much respect early on and we suffered as a result but the team fought back well. We have had four tough fixtures and if I had been offered 9 pts at the beginning I would have been satisfied. This is not ‘doom and gloom’, we got 2 points from an experienced team who finished second in the table last season. The game was played in a good spirit, it was physical but I have no complaints”.
Hoppers now have two away games at Otley and Wharfedale and travelling support will make a real difference so let’s get behind them and give them the encouragement to move up the table.
Report by John Le Page, picture from Mike Craig