This top-of- the-table clash certainly lived up to its billing and, in a fast and furious contest, Hoppers managed to fight off a late riposte from second-placed Hull to increase their lead at the top. The afternoon did not start well for the home side as centre Alex Hurst tweaked a hamstring in the warm-up and was a casualty on the bench with Tyler Spence coming in on the wing while Sam Stott moved
Words by Ken Moore, photo by Mike Craig
Hoppers dominated the first 15 minutes but some desperate defence kept them out and Hoppers opted for scrums as Hull conceded kickable penalties. After a few attempts at a pushover and further defensive infringements, replacement Tom Rice was despatched to the bin and from the resulting scrum Matt Lamprey picked up and drove over. The kicked failed but from the restart, James Fitzpatrick broke the line only for the final scoring pass to be judged forward. The lead proved to be short-lived as Hull No.10 Stephen Johnson established field position with some shrewd kicking and on 23 minutes No.8, Joe Stafford broke clear from a maul outside the 22 to put centre Joe Martin under the sticks and Johnson’s conversion put his side in front.
This gave the visitors some confidence and some elusive running from the backs and more tactical
kicking to utilize some real pace on the wings put Hoppers on the back foot and Johnson landed a penalty from 35 metres to extend the lead to 10-5. Hull continued their kicking game but full back Scott Jordan was secure under the high ball and returned the ball to touch with interest. Hoppers pinched the lineout to set up some drives for the line which were again defended but, when the ball was released, Chris Roddy was on hand to touch down and Jake Squirrell’s conversion gave the home side an important 12-10 lead at the break.
The home pack continued to disrupt the visitors’ lineout to gain possession and started to bring the backs into play with Spence making inroads and coming close on a couple of occasions. Then an attempted break by Alex Ward was thwarted by a high tackle but it was decided to kick to touch rather than goal. Several pick and drives from the pack were eventually rewarded as P J Millea burrowed over on 55 minutes and Squirrell’s kick was good.
Hoppers continued to dominate possession and Niall Crosley made ground before Hull put some pressure on Hoppers’ line but, expecting a clearing kick, were caught out as a quick pass to blindside wing Spence saw him make some 50 yards while Ally Murray and Pete Altham made some good carries. Hoppers pack pushed their opponents off their own ball twice in the scrum but again failed to score and needed to defend against some hard running from the visiting backs conceding some penalties and Johnson reduced the deficit to 19-13 with another kick at goal.
With their lead under threat, Hoppers responded immediately and Lamprey set off on a typical rampaging run to put Scott Jordan in at the corner with what appeared to be a bonus match winning score but Hull had other ideas and launched a series of attacks in the last 10 minutes. A long run from winger Stephen Hihetah produced a try for full back Lee Birch to reduce the deficit to just 6 points and in the last play he almost repeated the feat for a possible match winning score but Spence put in a superb try-saving tackle to cap a man-of- the-match performance.
Relieved player coach, Paul Arnold commented: “Not the ideal start with Alex Hurst’s injury in the
warm-up but Tyler stepped up from the bench and played a blinder. All credit to Hull – they are a good side, finished strongly and could have snatched the win after we took our foot off the pedal when we scored the bonus try. At the death we fell off some tackles which is something we need to have a look at. In a way its easier to play the clubs at the top of the table because the team is up for it from the first whistle. But we need to keep up the pressure and treat every game as a must-win that’s why we trained on the 28 the of December!”
Here’s how the other results went:
Here’s how the table looks now: