Hoppers 2nd XV 22 Fylde Hawks 19
Hoppers overcame a talented Fylde side on Saturday afternoon in an absorbing encounter which was a great advert for the Bateman Premier League. Given Saturday morning’s social media activity it was clear that the Hawks were confident of ending Preston’s winning run which extends back to mid-January. In fact the visitors’ willingness to run the ball caused Preston problems all afternoon and the outcome of the match was in doubt right until the final whistle.
Fylde were led by ex-Hoppers favourite Olly Viney and his elusive running and ability to step at will was a constant thorn in Preston’s side. The Hawks’ dynamic attacking play was supplemented by their abrasive trio of loose forwards who ensured that the breakdown was fiercely contested for the entire eighty minutes.
Hoppers actually started the better, gathering the kick off and establishing themselves in the Fylde twenty-two. The visitors transgressed and Farley made no mistake with the resultant penalty. However Fylde came back well and had their hosts under severe pressure. Viney seemed intent on biting the hand that used to feed him and was the lynchpin for most of Fylde’s best work. The full-back made the first of several searing breaks before off-loading to Ben Vernon who scored with relative ease. Lawton added the extras and it was becoming increasingly clear that the Hawks were the best side that Hoppers had faced this season.
The men from the Woodlands continued to attack and Hoppers were struggling to build any attacking momentum. Young’s men then made a mess of a line out and Fylde ruthlessly capitalised on the turnover. Centre Charlie Hough, who enjoyed an outstanding first half, glided through some lacklustre defence to score on the right. The conversion was missed but Hoppers were 12-3 behind and the visitors were good value for their lead.
Preston aren’t a champion team for nothing though and the forwards began to show their quality, camping themselves deep inside Fylde territory. Hoppers enjoyed superiority in the scrum and had their opponents reeling. The referee had no choice but to award a penalty try and Young’s men were back in the game.
On the half hour Hough again showed his class, taking a nice outside line to score. Hoppers though were guilty of some sloppy play, clearing the ball to hand and not land, suiting the Hawks counter attacking style. Preston again hit back though as the front five began to take full control of the tight exchanges. The result was an unconverted try for Holmes as the home pack drove a line out over with relative ease. Young’s men had a chance to reduce the arrears further before the interval but Farley’s penalty fell short. The game was more of an even contest however and Hoppers were seemingly galvanised by a tackle of Morton-like proportions by young prop James Mawdsley.
The break in proceedings appeared to favour the home side as they started the stronger whilst the referee had lost patience with Fylde infringing and sent the Hawks hooker for a ten minute rest. Roebuck’s penalty would have take the score to 18-19 but his kick fell just short.
Hoppers then incurred the wrath of the official as Farley was sin-binned for straying offside. Preston didn’t waiver though and were dominating territory and possession as the Hawks front five appeared to tire. Jonny Doney who enjoyed another fine game in what has been an excellent season went close for Hoppers but couldn’t ground the ball. Fylde cleared their lines but Preston took the lead seconds later as a set move saw Elliott cut a nice inside line to score near the posts. Roebuck added the extras and the home side were 22-19 in front, leading the game for the first time in nearly an hour.
Fylde came fighting back knowing that the next score would probably prove to be decisive. Preston appeared to be in trouble as the visitors had a scrum deep in the red zone but the Hoppers pack prevailed and took a crucial strike against the head.
Hoppers replacements then had a crucial say in the destiny of the game. Russ Flynn began to find holes in the Fylde defence, breaching the gain line and taking defenders with him whilst debutant James Worlock turned Viney over in the Hoppers twenty two. This was a key moment in the match as Fylde seemed spent from that point and Hoppers were able to marshall those dangerous backs whilst retaining possession in the vital areas.
Roebuck had a late chance to extend the winning margin to six points but his penalty fell agonisingly short. It mattered little though as Hoppers maintained control for the final few minutes and had extended their winning run over the Hawks to seven matches.
Whilst Preston did not match their form from seven days ago their tremendous second half performance sees them retain their position at the top of the table. Hoppers have now won 55 of the last 61 league matches they have played but if they hope to regain the championship it is apparent that the Hawks will be contenders come April.
Next week they face another huge game as they travel to second place Caldy in a match which will, in effect, decide who tops the table before the league splits into two conferences on December 1st.