Preston Grasshoppers 28-25 Otley
This fixture, against third from top of the table Otley, was the eight hundredth league game for the club and the team put on a real celebratory show.
The weather was cool with a strong breeze blowing from behind the stand but thankfully the rain held off.
Hoppers kicked off and the game got under way with a bout of kick tennis as the ball was hoofed back and forth until the visitors found touch and gave their hosts a lineout on their 10m line.
Then Otley turned the ball over and headed into the Hoppers’ 22 only to give up a penalty. Will Hunt nudged the ball to the 10m line but hoppers then lost the lineout.
Play moved on and Hoppers were awarded another penalty on the Otley 5m line and the first real chance to attack the goal line.
The action moved back towards the 22 but then, in what was an indication of what was to come, Hunt executed a chip pass to Tyler Spence coming in off his wing. He darted forward and passed to Harry Swarbrick who then pressed on and returned the ball to Spence but in the tackle it was bundled into touch.
Hoppers had the lineout twenty metres from the Otley line, the ball was secured, and the forwards drove into the Red Zone where, with the referee playing advantage, they attacked the line under the posts. The inevitable penalty came and Hunt calmly stroked the ball over the bar for the first points of the afternoon.
The game then shifted up a gear as, from the restart, a loose ball was hacked on by Swarbrick to set up a foot race to the Otley 5m line where he was only just beaten as it ran away.
Play then occupied the middle third as both sides exchanged attacks until Hoppers broke towards the Otley 22 with Ed Keohane linking with Will Clapham, the move only thwarted by a forward pass.
It was then Otley’s turn to make some ground and through a series of phases, they reached the 5m line where they were given a penalty kick in front of the posts. Scrum half, Rowntree made sure of the points and the teams were back on level terms, 3 – 3 with just a quarter of the match gone.
They battled on gaining and losing ground in turn with punishing tackling from both sides but at the half time whistle the score was still 3 – 3.
As the score indicated, this had been a very evenly-matched game but for Hoppers to contain a side that was on a run of thirteen unbeaten matches suggested they had certainly come to the party to play.
Otley had a big, strong pack but despite that, they had not made the breaks they might have expected. It was still anybody’s game in the second half.
Otley restarted and immediately their hosts had a lineout on their own 20m line. The ball was moved swiftly through hands across the 10m line where it came to Spence who, taking it at speed, jinked his way through three defenders on his way to the line to score one of his trademark, long break tries, which have been so rare this season. Hunt’s attempt to convert from wide on the wing looked perfect until it succumbed to the wind and bounced back off the upright, 8 – 3.
However, the lead was brief as Otley came back with two tries in almost as many minutes. The first, from winger Wells, saw him emulate Spence with a run down his wing to the corner, the second, the result of some fine interplay between Irvine, Wells, Morgan and winger, Morgan, who also scored towards the other corner. Neither conversions were successful but the lead was firmly with the visitors, 8 – 13.
Hoppers came back. A penalty kick by Hunt cut the lead to two points but, after the referee had maintained a long advantage, Otley ran in their third try and a second for Wells who again scored in the corner. Once more the conversion failed but the scoreboard moved on to11 – 18.
The match had attracted a good crowd who were certainly being entertained and it then got even better for the home faithful as Scott Richardson broke through a mob of defenders and raced from half way to the Otley 22. He passed to Josh Longson who battled his way to the foot of the post for the second Hoppers’ try. Hunt was on target and the teams were back at level pegging, 18 – 18.
Hoppers seemed to be fired up now and the third try was not long in coming, again initiated by a break from Richardson. He fed the ball to Hunt who chipped a superb pass to himself and then streaked away to cover the forty metres and score under the posts. He then converted his own effort and Hoppers looked good for the win at 25 – 18.
From the restart Hoppers cleared to their visitors’ 10m line to give Otley the lineout. They received the ball and moved it out to full back, Callum who had been the thorn in the flesh of Hoppers all afternoon as he controlled the play for the Yorkshire side. He broke from outside the 22 to leave all behind him and score under the posts. Rowntree was quick to convert and with minutes to go the score was even once again, 25 – 25.
The home supporters were experiencing a deja-vu moment as things looked to be repeating themselves from the previous week at The Woodlands. This time however, it was the visitors who gave up the penalty after a series of battling phases across the Otley 22. Hunt settled himself and then confidently sent the ball between the uprights, 28 – 25.
Now there was less than two minutes to play and although they lost a lineout, the lads dug in to retain the ball and see the game out. The final score, 28 – 25.
After the match assistant coach, Steve Kerry was understandably pleased:
“This has been coming for a few weeks now. We’ve trained well and today we had things going for us. It was a good, very even in the first half as the scoreline suggested and in the second half we had a good five or ten minutes then they had their good fifteen minutes but we dug in there as we’ve been talking about in training. I thought the tries we scored were both individually and team-wise, superb and that is what won it in the end. We move on to Chester next week with a lot of confidence, we’re still improving and today showed much better discipline than of late and the teamwork has improved around that, going on from close results to today which has shown that we can see out tight games.”
As usual, the 1869 Club are running a coach to Chester and places can be booked on the noticeboard at the Club.
Report by John Le Page, pictures by Mike Craig