Peterborough Lions 12 – 19 Preston Grasshoppers
It was an early start for the team and their travelling fans as they set off for the longest trip of the season and a first time visit to Solstice Park. The journey wasn’t without incident as the team coach was unerringly guided by the trusty SatNav to home of Peterborough rugby club who play their matches two leagues below us!
Having travelled through rain and strong winds that rocked the coach it was a relief to arrive at the desired venue in bright sunshine and just a swirling breeze.
Hoppers came with a slightly changed lineup from the side which won last week. Teddy Leatherbarrow was nursing an injury from an outing with the Scots under 20’s and James Gough was unavailable this week which enabled the youthful Matt Danson-Hayes to make his debut at scrum half. Captain PJ started on the bench alongside Dan Madden so Ollie Trippier opened the game as hooker.
Richard Attenborough and Steve McQueen could not have orchestrated a ‘Greater Escape’ than this one. The game started in much the same way as the last away fixture against Sheffield Tigers as from the kick off Hoppers were under immediate pressure from a Lions side fighting against relegation.
It seemed as though nobody had told our lads that the game started at three o’clock as they simply did not ‘turn up’. For most of the first period all the play was in the Hoppers’ half. They were denied possession of the ball by the fast running and passing of their opponents and on the rare occasions when they were able to make some progress a knock-on or handling error brought their efforts to nought.
The home side’s eagerness soon paid off as on sixteen minutes, number six Lewis crossed the line and fly half Defeo converted.
Things did not get any better for our lads as from the restart they were constantly under attack. Despite their clearing kicks and the odd short break into the Peterborough half they were unable to gain any prolonged possession of the ball as miss handling and turnovers denied them the chance to make any progress.
The Lions maintained their pressure on their visitors’ defence, moving the ball with speed through several series of phases and were rewarded again as Defeo scored just before the half-time whistle and although his conversion attempt failed, the Lions went in with a well-deserved lead of 12-0.
Contrary to their normal game plan, Hoppers had had to play in their own half for most of the time. Poor handling and knock-ons denied them possession; they had given away too many penalties and had been turned over more than once by a side who just showed more intensity and a will to win.
Thankfully for the travelling supporters, the second half saw the Hoppers regroup and almost immediately Matt Crow received the ball on his own 10m line and tore through the opposition towards the 22 only for his tap through to run over the dead ball line.
The drop-out took play back to the half way line and a Hoppers’ scrum just inside the Lions’ half. The Preston pack drove the scrum beyond the 10m line and set up a series of phases which resulted in a drop-goal attempt by Tom Davidson, no doubt keen to repeat his success of last week. The ball fell short but Hoppers were now beginning to exert some pressure and for the next ten minutes mounted repeated attacks into their hosts’ half.
The breakthrough came when Tyler Spence collected the ball in his own half and shot through the Lions’ defence to their 22. He then collected his own kick forward and crossed the line just left of the post. Davidson converted and Hoppers were back in the game.
The Lions’ restart did not clear the ten metre line and in the ensuing scrum Hoppers asserted their strength as they again drove the opposition into their own half. A break by Sam Stott took them deep into their hosts’ 22 and kept them in the Lions’ territory as the possession was now with the visitors.
But Hoppers were still giving away penalties and play constantly swung back and forth as their forwards’ progress was thwarted by Lions’ kicks to touch in their half. The clock had moved into the last quarter of the match when Adam Howard made a break to the Lions’ 22 where a series of phases moved the ball across the field for Spence to make ground and pass to Matt Crow who scored inside the corner. The conversion was just wide but the score was tied at 12-12 with fifteen minutes remaining.
Hoppers pushed on and with the Lions tiring they won a succession of scrums and penalties. As the game moved into the final minutes Davidson had a chance to put his side in the lead with a penalty kick inside the Lions’ 10m line. He tee’d the ball up but as he started his approach it blew over and his hurried drop-goal attempt missed the target. The game stayed in the balance and looked like finishing as a draw when a further kick at goal failed to put Hoppers in the lead. They now had all the possession and although the tackles from their hosts were flying in, the match was settled by a second try from Spence who, from thirty metres out, again raced through the defence to score near the upright and Davidson made no mistake with the conversion which was the final play of the match. The ‘escape team’ had got through the tunnel!
A relieved Head Coach Arnold said, “The performance in the first half was not as I would have liked but the team showed real character in the second. They played well to get the result against a good attacking side and in the early part of the season this would have been a game lost in the last minutes. We were looking like losing the match until ‘Dad’s Army’ came off the bench!
Some might say this was a point lost but I am happy to take four points from this one”.
As there is no match next Saturday the team has a chance to take some rest and recovery time before the next clash with Hinckley at Lightfoot Green where they will want to turn round their biggest defeat of the season so far when they played the away fixture.
With seventy-three points, Hoppers are in a good position at seventh in the league and whilst this might be viewed by some as ‘job done’, there are still games to be played and won and support at matches is always a real boost. So enjoy the breather next week and come down to cheer on the 2ndXV in their Robinson’s Brewery Cup fixture against Lymm 2nds.
Report by John Le Page, picture by Mike Craig