PRESTON GRASSHOPPERS 27- 26 KIRKBY LONSDALE
By Ken Moore, picture by Mike Craig.
In an error-strewn game, Hoppers recorded the narrowest of victories against a spirited Kirkby Lonsdale side to maintain their unbeaten run going into the first break.
“Relief!” was Coach Paul Arnold’s reaction after the game, an emotion that was shared by his players and home supporters alike. “It was a poor performance and some players did not take the opportunity to step up to the mark. When we put three or four phases together we looked dangerous but again made too many errors and discipline was poor. We now have a week off to regroup – it’s still a work in progress.”
The visitors certainly adapted their game better to the wet, windy conditions with a slippery ball making open handling rugby difficult and Hoppers seemed to get the rough end of some inconsistent refereeing. But the defence was again good, restricting Kirkby to just one actual touchdown although they enjoyed long periods of possession.
Hoppers started well, dominant in the tight, and Niall Crosley’s break set up an attacking position from which Arnold drove over in the 4th minute. Will Hunt’s conversion hit a post and the kicker was to have an off-day with the boot, failing with four more shots at goal. Conversely, Kirkby’s Ryan Terry was on song, slotting his first penalty four minutes later.
But the hosts then produced probably the best move of the match as Arnold’s deft off-load to Scott Jordan, with an excellent angled run from the blind side, produced a try for the winger.
Further indiscretions allowed Terry to kick a second penalty although he failed with another effort minutes later leading to a Hoppers counter attack which almost brought a try for Crosley who was unable to gather the ball just short of the line. Winning a penalty from the resulting scrum, Hoppers opted for a re-set and Matt Lamprey picked up and drove over to put his side 15-6 to the good.
Kirkby continued their pick and drive tactics and the home defence again incurred the displeasure of referee Owen Taylor, allowing Terry to kick two more penalties to keep his side very much in the hunt at 15-12 at the break.
The visitors were growing in confidence and exerted more pressure with forward drives while Hoppers’ attempts to run the ball produced a series of handling errors. After Terry was just short with another shot at goal, a kick into the home in-goal area was knocked over the dead ball line illegally by full back Alex Hurst resulting in a yellow card and highly dubious award of a penalty try to put Kirkby in the lead for the first time at 19-15.
But then a stroke of luck for Hoppers as influential No.8 David Maka spilled the kick-off and Chris Roddy followed up his hack through to touch down and regain the lead at 20-19. This was, however, short-lived as an aimless kick set up a counter attack and, using their main tactic of the pick and drive, the visitors at last pierced the home defence as replacement Stuart Storey touched down and Terry’s touchline conversion put his side 26-20 ahead with 15 minutes left.
Staring defeat in the face, Hoppers then put the pressure on and it was the opposition’s turn to infringe, a penalty kick to the corner setting up an attack. Securing the lineout ball, a drive followed repulsed only by an illegal collapse and perhaps it was poetic justice in view of earlier events that the referee went under the posts and the 7 points decided the outcome.
Despite a late try from Oga Mabaya being disallowed, Hoppers remained on the attack to close out the game at 27-26.