Hoppers 2nd XV 22 Sedgley Tigers 2nd XV 21
After three rounds John Young’s second team top the Bateman Premier League on points difference after a workmanlike but ultimately deserved victory against their old foes from Whitefield.
Hoppers greeted the final whistle with a mixture of relief and frustration as they maintained their recent dominance over the once all conquering Tigers.
Young’s charges tried to play most of the rugby but failed to maintain the continuity and dynamism which has been a feature of their play over the lat two seasons. Their sluggishness was underpinned by the raft of enforced changes and the visitors’ best efforts to stymy the breakdown.
Olly Farley’s goal kicking duel with Tom Leader ultimately proved the difference with the kicks he made tipping the balance in Hoppers favour.
Hoppers made the early running, putting pressure on the Tigers line out and Farley’s penalty opened the scoring after seven minutes. The visitors did their best to slow Preston down and the home side’s front five struggled to impose itself. Leader missed two penalties in quick succession for the Tigers before Farley extended the lead to 6-0 after half an hour.
Just before the break saw Preston’s best piece of play. Former Tiger Dave Perry pinched a line out on the Hoppers 22 which allowed the forwards to drive away from danger. Murray decided to run the ball on second phase, popping an inside ball to Matt Hughes who beat a succession of attempted to tackles to score from fully 70 metres. Farley’s conversion was good and Hoppers led 13-0.
The visitors had the final say before the break when Hoppers transgressed after the Tigers breached the gain line for the first time. Leader slotted over at the third time of asking and it was 13-3 at half time.
The Sedgley stand off, who was their main threat throughout then added another penalty shortly after the break to cut the arrears to seven points.
Hoppers should really have had their second try after a smart kick through by Murray saw Rhodes-Powers out sprint the Tigers defence. Unfortunately for Young’s men the young winger just knocked the ball on as he tried to ground it.
The Tigers began to threaten a bit more whilst Hoppers began to concede some daft penalties. Leader added his third and the visitors had a chance to break their Hoppers hoodoo. Farley’s penalty from 30 metres out eased some of the pressure but their 16-9 lead didn’t seem like a winning one at that stage.
Just five minutes later it was game on as the Tigers sent former first team coach Richard Senior on from from the bench. His impact appeared to galvanise the visitors and he immediately began to make a real nuisance of himself, particularly at the rucks. The Tigers kicked a penalty to the corner and drove the resultant line out. Leader managed to get through some weak tackles and wriggled his way to the line, converting his own try.
The scores were now tied at 16 points apiece although Hoppers were frustrated as there appeared to be some shenanigans involving Senior going on at the other side of the breakdown.
Preston fought back and Farley had two bites of the cherry, missing his first but cooly slotting his second. The home side led 19-16 but there were sure to be some more twists and turns before the final whistle.
Farley then extended his points tally with another penalty although Hoppers were fortunate to get an additional ten yards after some questionable histrionics by Mabaya following a petulant kick by Smith to his shin.
With time running out the Tigers made the most of some further ill discipline by the home side. Their first attempt to drive a line out over was brilliantly repelled but they made the most of their next opportunity and Hoppers lead was cut to a single point. The result hinged on Leader’s conversion and those in blue and white breathed a sigh of relief when the kick went wide.
Preston saw out the remaining minutes to retain their unblemished record. They are joined on twelve points by Macclesfield, Caldy and surprise package Stockport. Next weekend Hoppers travel to Chester in what will be another stern test. Preston had some tough fixtures against them last season but Young’s men will be confident that they can get a little revenge following the first team’s defeat at the weekend.