Hoppers fell to a disappointing defeat in their final game of the 2015-16 National 2 North season but can look back at a campaign with a lot of positives.
The visitors scored four first half tries to secure their place in the league for next season but were hanging on at the end as Hoppers dominated the second period but only had a penalty to show for all their efforts.
Hoppers showed glimpses of the positive running rugby that has served them well but this was an under-resourced side forced into a number of changes that just couldn’t match a determined Cheshire outfit who needed the points.
However, that will serve them well in the coming season as they have again been forced to put out a young side and hand a number of debuts throughout the season and these players will benefit from an introduction to national League rugby.
A reflective Garth Dew said; “it’s disappointing as we had plenty of opportunities to win that one and finish on a high but Chester were under pressure and desperate for the points.”
“I’ve thanked the lads for their hard work this season as you can’t fault the effort of them. It’s a long hard season and it’s a tough level of rugby and the effort these guys put in for no financial reward is fantastic.”
“Looking at the game we were a bit bemused how they can pull three line-outs down close to the line without a card and that could have changed the game, but saying that we knocked on too much and wasted opportunities.”
“Chester are a niggly side and were scrapping for every ball so it was a tough game for us but once again the lads put their bodies out their, you have Dan Madden, Andy Napier and Reece Tomlinson all going into the game with injuries, and nobody is fully healthy at this stage of the season, so full credit to the lads for their performance”
Chester looked to play with width and they were rewarded early when scrum half Callum Bennett crossed after a sweeping move.
Lewis Allen reduced the deficit with a penalty but it was all Chester and a 5m driving maul got them the second try as Gavin Woods touched down.
The third try came after another line-out but this time on the 22 and a swift move ended with Mike Craven powering over.
Hoppers finally sprung into life and looked to get into a scoring position and kicked for a line-out after Chester lock was yellow carded for collapsing a maul, a cynical tactic that actually served the visitors well, and from the resulting line-out move Sam Gale sneak down the blindside untouched.
Jacob Browne got Hoppers second soon after, to continue his impressive introduction to first team rugby, as Hoppers took the restart straight down the other end with forwards and backs combining well before Allen put the flying winger away for a superb try.
However, Chester grabbed the bonus point try into time added on as Sean Green cut a good line to score under the posts.
Allen hit his second penalty in the opening minutes of the half but it was to be the last score as the second half petered out with Hoppers having plenty of ball but unable to cross the white wash. They came close with a couple of catch and drives close to the line but again the cynical nature of the Chester defence stopped them without being punished more than the penalty. Hoppers had to settle for the losing bonus point that means they finish the season in 9th place.
Looking forward to next season, Dew added; “We are in a better position now than at the end of next season and I believe we are heading in the right direction. It’s been a disrupted season with the weather and we were hampered with injuries that meant we couldn’t put out a consistent side but we’ve added four quality players for next season so we will look to kick on and build upon this.”
Preston Grasshoppers 16-22 Chester