Preston Grasshoppers 24-18 Sheffield Tigers
Fresh from a week off, Hoppers took the field against Sheffield Tigers with a certain degree of confidence after their improved performance at their visitors’ neighbours last time out, and with Tigers sitting just above them in the table, separated by only one point, this was a match to win.
Once again, it was a different side which ran out into the cool, clear autumn afternoon with three new faces replacing injured or ill players. Will Riley, starting at five and Harry Thompson on the bench as replacement hooker both joined on dual registration from Sale Sharks Academy having played in the very successful Kirkham Grammar School side last year. Joining them was Harry Swarbrick from North Wales Crusaders making his first appearance in the blue and white jersey.
Tigers kicked off deep into the Hoppers’ half where they set about trying to pressurize their hosts’ defence gaining ground by inches as they battled their way forwards. The ball was secured by Hoppers and Ben Pearson’s clearing kick sent them back to half way.
From a line-out on the Tigers’ 10m line the home side played their way up to the Tigers’ 22 where they were awarded a penalty, the first of several that were to go their way in this half.
Pearson opted to go for the points and struck an easy kick to settle the game and put his side on the scoreboard. 3 – 0.
Sheffield stole the ball from a Hoppers’ line-out and drive but their efforts were foiled by a knock-on handing the scrum on their own 5m line to their hosts. Too eager to compete they then had a free kick awarded against them and Scott Richardson peeled from the base towards the goal line.
He was caught just short of a try but Hoppers were awarded a penalty and opted to scrum again.
This time the ball was released and worked through to Jacob Browne who glided effortlessly through the defence to score under the posts. Pearson had no problems with the conversion and the score moved on to 10 – 0.
Hoppers now had their tails up and from the restart the ball was collected inside their 22 by full back Kev Brown who then set off on a searing break, skipping past tackles and outstripping the opposition to reach the Tigers’ 22 before a penalty halted his progress.
The visitors were under some pressure at this point but their tackling and counter-rucking was strong and gained them a penalty which relieved the danger from persistent attacks by their hosts who were putting together some great passing and handling moves to harry their opposition deep inside their own half.
Winger Will Clapham fell victim to a somewhat firm tackle and was replaced by Josh Rourke. Then the Tigers found some form and began a long series of attacks along the Hoppers’ 22 which had the home side battling to get up the field. Intense exchanges and tackles resulted in a penalty to the visitors who opted to take points from in front of goal. Fly half Wager slotted his kick to move the score to 10 – 3 as the game entered the second quarter.
Encouraged by their success, Tigers began to gain a little dominance and put in some crunching tackles to keep out the Hoppers’ advances.
However their hosts soon regrouped and when captain Harry Moulding broke from a scrum on his own 20m line to race through an open channel and pass to the supporting Sam Gale. The move was only halted by what looked, from the stand, suspiciously like a trip. Whilst that was disregarded as foul play, Hoppers were awarded another penalty and from a line-out on the Tigers’ 10m line, once again it was Moulding who spotted the gap and broke through to the Red Zone to supply Richardson with the ball and with the forwards latching onto him he was driven across the whitewash just right of the post. Pearson was accurate again and now there was daylight between the teams on the scoreboard, 17 – 3.
The Sheffield side then heaped misery on themselves when a penalty which should have had them on the Hoppers’ 5m line over shot and only found touch in goal.
The last ten minutes of the half was a fairly evenly matched affair and Hoppers looked to go in at half time with a fourteen point lead until, with just one minute to go, Tigers were given a penalty on the 22 in front of goal and the score at the end of the half was 17 – 6.
It had been a pacey first half with both sides having a share of the possession. Hoppers had tackled much better than of late when too many attacks had been allowed to score from broken tackles. Moulding was masterminding the plays and finding gaps in the otherwise stout Tigers’ defence. Good handling and better decision-making from the lads had gained them a well-earned lead and they went in to the break confident of more in the second period.
Sheffield had shown strength in attack and gained ground through dogged forward play, putting pressure on their opposition inside their 22 only to be thwarted by the solid defence.
Hoppers started the second half and immediately a break by Ed Keohane, who had shown some blistering tackling thus far, took them beyond the Tigers’ 10m line where a knock-on gave the visitors a scrum. After a re-set, the ball was stolen by Ben Dorrington who then bludgeoned his way through the defending forwards to reach the 22 before passing to Gale in support. He then dodged his way into the Red Zone where he was able to return the ball to the following Dorrington who touched down to the left of the posts. Pearson added the extras and Hoppers were on their way to a bonus point having scored three tries with a third of the match still to play.
Dorrington was having an outstanding game and proceeded to pester the opposition and make ground from all round the field. Tigers gained a penalty which had them attacking in the Hoppers’ 22 but the ball came loose and was quickly collected by Pearson who then executed a perfect, low, angled 50-20 kick which placed the Hoppers’ line out on their opposition 5m line.
Sheffield were still defending strongly in the breakdown and play moved back and forth with neither side gaining the upper hand.
Hoppers had several chances to further their score with more breaks and good handling moves but, try as they might, they couldn’t find a way to close out the game.
Tigers, for their part, did offer chances when another penalty sailed out inside the goal area handing their hosts a scrum. Chris Taylor made a charging break to half way and with support from Rourke they moved up the field where he then executed a neat off-load to Brown but such was his approaching speed, the ball was knocked-on.
The last ten minutes were all about the Tigers as they kept up ceaseless attacks inside the Hoppers’ 22. Penalties were abundant and when a yellow card was shown to Hoppers’ Will Riley, the balance swung in favour of the Yorkshire team. Two converted tries from Meek and Goatley, in what seemed an endless period of overtime, enabled them to claim a losing bonus point, a frustrating finish for what had been a very promising Hoppers’ performance, 24 – 18.
With Joel being interviewed on the pitch by the National League Rugby Show, it fell to Dan to sum up the afternoon:
‘The most important thing was getting the win.
From a game management point of view it was disappointing for us with them making two late scores and picking up the bonus point which could be important at the end of the season.
I’m really happy with the first sixty minutes, we just need to be a little more clinical, more accurate.
There were some excellent individual performances in what was a really good team display. Will Riley showed what he can bring to a game in terms of physicality and intensity, Olli Trippier was almost in for a try towards the end and Ben Dorrington was outstanding today.
The backs had a good run too with Jacob Browne and Ed Keohane making breaks and watching Harry sniping round the breakdown was nice as he’s now recognising the spaces he can use and managing the game well.
We had a good game for the most part today but we have to be able to close out a match. Discipline cost us in that last ten minutes and the penalty count was too high.
This is a good platform for next week at Otley and with players coming back there is competition for places which is good for us all.’
The win puts Hoppers into tenth position in the table above the Tigers and with Otley just three spots above, next week could be a big win for the lads. There will be a supporters’ coach going to Cross Green so sign up and get behind the team, and let’s hope it’s a win and not a 0 – 0 draw this time!