Hull Ionians 22-15 Preston Grasshoppers
Preston Grasshoppers travelled to Brantingham Park looking to extend their run of six unbeaten matches. Hull Ionians, top of the league and set for promotion to the third tier, were always going to be a difficult side to beat on home turf, especially when they had a point to prove after their sound defeat at Lightfoot Green in December.
Ionians kicked off and had their visitors penned inside their own half for most of the first period. Hoppers were always on the back foot and it was ten minutes before play moved across the halfway line by which time they were 3 – 0 down to one of the many penalties they conceded throughout the afternoon.
Throughout most of the match Hoppers had scant possession and what little they did manage to gain was too often lost through handling errors and knock-ons. The play was fast and, at times, fierce with first, Adam Howard down and receiving attention from a straight-arm tackle, shortly followed by Ryan Purcell leaving the field with knee injury although he later recovered to come back on a make a valuable contribution to the final result.
Although the two sides were evenly matched, Ionians had most of the play and the game was a tight battle of possession only broken by a handling error, a forward pass or a knock-on.
Hoppers were strong in the scrums making short but telling drives only to lose the ball in the frustrating and often scrappy play when the ball was loose and players were scrabbling to gain the upper hand.
Ionians ran the ball at every opportunity and were quick to recycle it. Whilst the Preston defence was as solid as usual, with less than ten minutes of the half to play, the Hull side scored their first try and with the conversion adding the extras, the teams left the field with the score at 10-0.
Hoppers had played most of the half without the ball and their hosts had kept pressurizing them in their own half. The few attacks Hoppers managed to make were merely flashes of what the supporters had seen of late and there appeared to be little to suggest the second half would be any different.
Hoppers kicked off and the game continued in much the same vein as before with Ionians running the ball and Hoppers scrapping for possession. There were opportunities, a hack through by Alex Hurst made good ground but was foiled by the inevitable knock-on. James Fitzpatrick, on the burst, saw a gap in the Hull line but the pass did not stick and again a knock-on brought the Hoppers’ attack to nought.
Ionians pressed on to score two tries in three minutes putting the hosts into a twenty-two point lead and with just a quarter of the match remaining, in the stand the travelling Preston faithful were facing a beating to nil.
Then Hoppers began to get some possession and a hack and chase by Tyler Spence took him from his own 10m line deep into the Ionians’ 22 and rewarded them with a try. The conversion swerved viciously in the air and, as has been the case so many times this season, the ball glanced off the upright and out of play but there was a score on the board at last and the travelling supporters could breathe again.
With Hoppers now having the possession they had been denied for so long it was their turn to push their opponents back into their own half where they played for the rest of the match. With less than ten minutes remaining a series of penalties took them to the Hull 5m line. From the lineout Matt Lamprey broke through the Ionians’ defence to score the second try and this time Davidson’s conversion was good.
Hoppers were in command at last and were constantly pressing the Hull line. A succession of scrums lead to a penalty which, with the clock in the red, Davidson slotted from thirty-five metres to make the final score 22 – 15 and give Hoppers the losing bonus point.
Coach Paul Arnold was pleased with the come-back,
‘The best team won. I was disappointed in the first half performance, Ionians played good rugby and capitalised on our mistakes and some poor decision-making. That cost us. We could have been 6 – 3 up but were 10 – 0 down.
At 22 – 0 heads could have dropped, and who would have blamed them against the side who have made the top of the league their own? But I am really proud of our lads, they are hardworking, honest and will never give up. To get a bonus point from what looked like a nil score was great and with seventy-nine league points and only three games left, we’ll take that’
Captain PJ added his support for the way the team played,
‘This is a young side that is gaining experience with every match. They were disappointed and individually they were apologetic for what they felt was a poor performance but they also need to see that gaining a losing bonus point from such a performance is something to be pleased about. No team can beat a side by massive scores every week – I’ll take a one point win any time. At the start of the season our aim was to stay in the league. By January we were looking to finish in the top half and now, if we had won those early matches that were lost in the last minutes, we could have been at risk of contending for promotion! Staying up will give the whole squad a chance to mature and with all the lads signed up for next season and the possibility of a couple of new players coming in the future looks very promising.’
Next Saturday sees Stourbridge who come to Lightfoot Green on the back of stunning 60 – 17 win over Otley. Hoppers were victorious by a narrow five points in the first fixture, this one could be a cracker.
Report by John Le Page, picture by Malcolm Knowles