Lymm vs Preston Grasshoppers

Date: 19 February 2022

Lymm 36-41 Preston Grasshoppers

Hoppers made the short trip to Lymm knowing they would not be facing the team they had laid so low back in October. Since then the Cheshire side had moved up the table and recorded a run of six straight wins until their encounter with league leaders, Otley last week.

Despite the arctic blizzard which had cancelled all the games at Lightfoot Lane, one of which was the Isle of Man ladies team who had flown in early in the morning, had warmed up on the AGP and then been forced to take an early shower as the match was cancelled due to five or six centimetres of snow on the pitch and a blizzard in full sway, the weather further south was spring-like, clear and very cold as the game kicked off.

From the start it was obvious that Lymm’s backs were a very strong unit and they struck first after ten minutes. As with the game against Blackburn, Hoppers seemed to lack intensity in the first half and a combination of missed tackles knocks-on and poor handling saw them 7 – 0 down after just ten minutes.

This may have been a bit of a wake-up call as Sam Gale began a battling run into the Lymm half before passing to Ali Murray who took it on towards the 22. The ball was lost forward in the tackle but from the ensuing scrum a break by Murray, this time supported by Jordan Dorrington took them into the Red Zone where the visitors were awarded a penalty. The line-out ball secured, Hoppers’ forwards drove the Lymm pack and captain Chris Taylor crossed the line mid-way between the post and corner flag.

Alex Ward had the low sun in his eyes as he prepared the conversion but the kick found its mark and the scores were tied.

Boosted by this, Hoppers began a period of concerted pressure with breaks into the Lymm half by Taylor passing to Ollie Trippier and then another foray by Taylor again, this time linking with Jacob Browne, to get into their hosts’ 22.

Time was stopped as the Lymm scrum half suffered a knock to the head and on restarting the ball was cleared back into the Hoppers’ half.

Relief for Lymm was short-lived however as a break by Sam Stott, working with partner Jordan Dorrington, immediately had the home side defending inside their 22 again. A penalty for offside gave Ward the opportunity to extend his tally and again the bright sunshine did not affect him and the score moved on to 7 – 10.

The lead was not long-lived however, as less than five minutes later the situation was reversed with Lymm scoring from their own penalty to tie the game at 10 – 10.

It had been an entertaining watch for those brave enough to face the bitter cold as it had become a case of the teams almost matching each other score for score but as the first half approached its close Lymm had a fast break from the Hoppers’ 10m line which burst through several tackles to allow their number 8 to touch down just left of the post. The conversion was easy with the sun behind and at the break Hoppers found themselves a converted try down at 17 – 10.

Lymm had started the half with high intensity and Hoppers were not quite at the party. They seemed to be phased by the powerful pressure their opponents had unleashed from the off.

Both sides had made good, linking breaks deep into one another’s territory but Lymm had benefitted from being able to get through tackles and force errors from their visitors.

However, in a rerun of the last game against Blackburn, Head Coach Paul Arnold’s message at the break turned the team into a much more impressive unit and within four minutes of the restart they had scored two tries to take the lead.

The first came from the Lymm restart when Ward collected the kick and raced up into the Lymm half. The ball was delivered to Stott who dodged his way through the stunned defence to dot down under the posts. With the sun now low and behind him, the Fly Half had no trouble with the easiest of conversions.

Two minutes later Hoppers firmly stamped a marker on the game when another break, this time by Matt Lamprey, taking the play from half way down to the Lymm 22 sealed a penalty. The lineout was driven in field by the Preston pack where another try was scored under the posts, this time by Ben Dorrington. Ward repeated his conversion play and the scoreboard showed Hoppers with a seven-point lead after less than five minutes.

However, the lead was again only short-lived when Lymm pulled level with a try from an extended period of possession and we were back at square one, 24 – 24.

If one ‘wake-up call’ in the first half had not been enough, this second one sparked the visitors into action at last. Lamprey battled to the line only to be held up. Then Hoppers had a scrum which was re-set and then driven to within five metres for Lamprey to have his try awarded. Ward slotted the extras and Hoppers were a converted try in front once again. 24 – 31.

The pressure continued as Oga Mbaya made ground which resulted in a Hoppers’ penalty and a lineout on half way. They secured the ball and then began a driving maul which moved them beyond the Lymm 10m line. A bout of ‘handbags’ then interrupted the play from which Hoppers were awarded another penalty. The lineout on the Lymm 5m line was won and Toby Harrison crashed over towards the corner flag.

This time Ward’s effort from wide on the wing was pushed just past the upright but Hoppers had more than a single score lead as the game moved into the final fifteen minutes.

When a yellow card was shown to Harrison for a high tackle only minutes later, the home side pressed their advantage, replying with another, this time unconverted score only to see their visitors cross the line again.

The try came from a series of attacking phases along the left wing, inside the Lymm 22. The ball came out to Tyler Spence who, although he had had little of it in the match, skipped around the defenders before exhibiting a ‘Marcus Smith-like’ kick pass across to the opposite side for the waiting Will Clapham to dart over the line for the sixth try. The conversion attempt again missed the target but with just ten minutes of the match left, Hoppers looked home and hosed with all the points in the bag.

Lymm were not yet done and regrouped in a further assault on the Hoppers’ 22 but despite scoring the final try, they finished the match 36 – 41.

Arnie was happy with the result:

‘It was a strange game in some ways but we got the five points. We lacked urgency in the first half and I had a quiet word with them at half time. They reacted in the second half and were much better but if they play like that next week we will be on for hiding. Having said that, I think that knowing they are facing Otley next week, and knowing how big a game this will be, that will give them that bit of a boost to play as they know they can.

Lymm are not a bad side and before today they had won six on the bounce before the game against Otley last Saturday. We now have things to work on in training this week in preparation for our match with them at home’

Next week is, of course, the re-arranged fixture with league-leaders Otley and a good crowd will be a definite help to the lads as they press on for promotion. We sit second in the league after today’s matches, six points in front of third-placed Blackburn and only seven behind the leaders. As it is yet unclear just how many teams will be promoted so it is vital that we get all the points we can from the remaining fixtures and your support is key to the team achieving that goal.

Report by John Le Page, pictures by Rod Murray

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