Preston Grasshoppers 25 – 0 South Leicester
The weather was atrocious for both player and spectator alike and also, it seemed, the scoreboard which refused to perform its role. With a bitterly cold wind lashing the freezing rain the length of the pitch and the floodlights on, Hoppers were looking for their third win in a row this season whilst the Leicester side who, in thirteenth place in the league, needed a good points win themselves.
Leicester kicked off and the ball was collected on his own 22m line by full back Brad Cave who then made a penetrating run to half way only to be stopped when the ball went forward as he was tackled.
From the scrum Leicester were awarded a penalty which took them to the Preston 22 and a series of attacking phases had Hoppers under pressure defending their line. Tom Davidson, with his first touch of the ball, cleared to half way but from the lineout the Leicester forwards resumed their attack and the game settled into what was to become the pattern for the afternoon with the visitors moving through multiple phases, keeping the ball but gaining only little ground and Hoppers solidly defending around their own 10m line.
A long kick into the Preston half was picked up by Conor Truman who blazed past the Leicester players and took the play to the opposition 10m line. Hoppers gained a lineout from which they then gained a penalty, opted for a scrum, and drove the Leicester pack over the line for Matt Lamprey to score the first of his three tries.
The wind played havoc with the place kicking throughout the match and twice Davidson’s carefully tee’d ball was blown over and had to be steadied before he could take the kick. Sadly, the wind sent the ball wide but with ten minutes on the clock, the hosts took the lead at 5-0.
South Leicester restarted with another long ball to the Hoppers’ 22m line and again, it was Truman leaving all in his wake as he ran all the way to the visitors’ 22. With support on hand, he was able to pass the ball and a series of quick moves had Ally Murray crossing the line towards the corner where a lack of chasing defenders allowed him to run on and ground the ball under the posts. This time Davidson had no problems and the lead extended to twelve points in twelve minutes.
Again the restart was kicked deep into the Hoppers’ half and this time it was Davidson’s turn to carve through the opposition, his run taking the play back to half way. The game then resumed the battle of the forwards around the middle of the field with Leicester keeping possession through phase after phase for a good five minutes, the stalemate only broken with a grubber kick which found touch on the Hoppers’ 5m line.
Hoppers won the lineout and Lamprey broke away to the South Leicester 10m line, his attack only halted by a penalty in the ensuing tackle.
This was then the pattern for the rest of the half. Hoppers defending solidly against a South Leicester side who had most of the possession but despite their repeated visits to the hosts’ 5m line, could not get through the Preston forwards.
With two minutes to go to half time a collision in the air between Conor Truman and the South Leicester full back, Stephenson left both players on the ground and needing attention. Truman recovered quickly but the Leicester man stayed down. After some minutes he was finally assisted from the pitch and had to be shipped off to hospital with suspected damage to his hip received in the fall.
With the spectators eager to get into the warmth, the half time whistle was a welcome respite and the players went off with the score at 12-0.
Hoppers kicked off the second half and the return kick was collected by Cave who then chipped through to Tyler Spence. He made a searching break before passing to Davidson who kicked through for Truman to chase the ball down and from the tackle was awarded a penalty on the South Leicester 5m line. Hoppers drove the opposition towards the line but were held back and play eventually moved up the field to the Leicester 10m line where Hoppers were awarded a scrum. Lamprey made twenty metres before passing the ball which then went through several hands before being delivered back to him to score his second try of the afternoon. Once again the wind played its part and with the conversion missed the score stood at 17-0 and just six minutes of the second period gone.
The half progressed with what had become the ‘norm’ for the afternoon with South Leicester having most of the possession despite being driven time and again by Hoppers in the scrum. Play ebbed and flowed with neither side dominating until Hoppers were awarded a penalty in front of the posts which Davidson slotted easily to push the lead on to 20-0.
The restart was long and lost forward in the freezing conditions and Hoppers found themselves under a prolonged series of attacking moves which had their opponents camped under the posts. The Preston defence held out as Leicester repeatedly pressed the home side’s line. For the major part of the half this was the pattern of play with South Leicester forwards moving the ball and pressing the defence, Hoppers kicking clear only to face another wave of attacks until the ball was again cleared to touch up the field. The Hoppers’ forwards play was outstanding with Adam Howard playing at 6 putting in a mighty effort, carrying, tackling and defending relentlessly.
Play continued as before until Hoppers, having been penned in their own half for a good ten minutes, were awarded a penalty which took them to the Leicester 10m line and a scrum. A break by Pete Altham took him to the 22 from where another penalty had Hoppers with a lineout on the visitors’ 5m line.
At this point the bleakness of the day was lifted a little when, as Oga Mabaya was replaced by Noah Miller, the latter took to the field sporting the Hoppers bobble hat he’d been wearing in the dugout. Thoughtfully, his teammate relieved him of it as he headed off the pitch much to the amusement of all.
Play returned to a the battle around half way and it looked as though it would stay like that until Hoppers broke out and this time a series of good handling moves put Lamprey over for his third, and Hoppers’ bonus point, try. The wind again bettered the conversion attempt and the game ended with Hoppers’ third win in a row, a five point score of 25-0.
Once he had thawed out, Coach Paul Arnold was really happy with the result.
“It wasn’t the greatest spectacle and at half time the team were really down. I asked them for a nil score and five points and they came out and delivered. The half-backs controlled the play, the forwards had a massive game, none more so than the ‘man-mountain’ that is Adam Howard and credit also must go to Lamps for his hat trick.
The bench had a real impact, in particular, Olly Trippier stepping into PJ’s place with twenty minutes to go.
I’m looking forward to the match next week, it will be good to go back and who knows what will happen in a Derby game…..?”
With the team playing as it is and one defeat over Fylde already in the bag, next Saturday is set to be a cracking game and going into Christmas with another win would be the best present for us all. Let’s get as many supporters down there as we can, and don’t forget your bobble hats!
Report by John Le Page,picture by Mike Craig