Preston Grasshoppers 40-34 Tynedale
With three great performances including the win against high-flying Otley under their belt, Hoppers took the field against a Tyndale side that had just pipped them in the early season fixture with no little confidence.
The weather was good for the match, very cold and slightly overcast but with no wind to concern the kickers as the teams ran out.
Tyndale kicked off and immediately showed their intent with a series of fast passing exchanges across the middle third. They were rewarded with a penalty just inside the Hoppers’ 10m line and full-back Parker opted to kick for goal. His effort was good, and Tyndale were off and running after just three minutes.
Hoppers got their own break when a clearing kick was fumbled by the Tyndale wing and they were awarded a lineout on their visitor’s 10m line. The ball was secured and moved out to Tyler Spence who made good ground, jinking his way through tackles until the ball was lost forward.
Play moved up to the halfway line where Tyndale had a lineout. The ball was stolen and quickly moved through hands across the 22 to full-back Ben Pearson. He made vital metres before executing a neat chip-pass to Jacob Browne, running in support. He continued into the Tyndale half before tapping forward, the ball then deftly collected by Pearson in the in-goal area where he touched down. Will Hunt made easy work of the conversion and Hoppers took the lead, 7 – 3.
They continued the pressure and another chip pass by Hunt found Spence and his buddy, Browne, eager for more metres which they made before being tackled. However, it was the Tyndale player who took the ball into touch and home side had the lineout, 10m from the opposition line.
The ball was taken, and the forwards began pressing the line. They gained a penalty and opted to scrum. Harry Moulding delivered the ball and then, before anyone could react, he took it and dived over towards the corner.
Hunt was on form, as, from wide towards the wing, his kick split the uprights and the score moved on again, 14 – 3.
Hoppers were playing good, free-flowing rugby, confident in their ability to create moves and support each other. They looked like adding a third try before the first quarter had elapsed when an over ambitious, loose pass on their own 22 gifted their visitors’ a try as it was intercepted by outside centre, Lilley, who ran in under the posts. Parker slotted the conversion and the Moulding’s effort was nullified as the score edged back to 14 – 10.
However, from the restart, the ball was collected by Josh Longson and knocked backwards into the path of new prop Tom Guest who then proceeded to illustrate the modern forwards’ game by making his own 30m break and scoring just beyond the posts. The conversion was simple for Hunt who made it three from three and the gap was extended again, 21 – 10.
Hoppers were on the rampage, attacking with speed and fast, accurate passing which rattled their opponents. It wasn’t all one-way traffic though, as expansive play, though entertaining, is often risky and the ball was lost at times either by a knock forward or a loose pass. Nevertheless the lads were enjoying themselves and as the end of the first half approached, they added another seven. The pack had been driving their opposition time and again and when Spence was tackled late and off the ball, from the penalty they drove the lineout from the Tyndale 5m line with Olli Trippier the last to surface with a grin on his face. Again, Hunt was on point and as the teams headed for the sheds Hoppers had established an eighteen-point lead and the Bonus Point try. 28 – 10.
The supporters had been royally entertained by fast, running rugby and, despite the score, both camps must have been pleased with what they had seen.
Tyndale had come with a real purpose and had set off at speed with fast passing moves which showed them well-organised and dangerous on the break.
Hoppers, for their part, had also been organised, defending solidly as always but also showing their confidence in trying different moves, throwing the ball about and creating gaps through which they attacked with some success, the back division indicating they were a match in a foot race with any team in this league. In truth, but for a couple of loose passes, the score could have been significantly higher.
Hoppers restarted the match, and the on-rushing Scott Richardson collected the ball and swiftly moved it to inside centre Jake Maher, making only his second appearance for the team, who outran all the opposition in his break from the 10m line to score wide right of the posts. Hunt tee’d the ball up but his kick floated left past the upright. 33 – 10.
Whilst there were more than thirty-five minutes left to play, the faithful must have been feeling confident that the win was in the bag. But, after last week’s game Ally Murray had identified that the team, confident though it was, still had lapses in focus and this was almost to be their undoing today.
Tyndale began to find their way. They battled into the Hoppers’ 22 and a penalty gave them a lineout 10m from their hosts’ line. They collected the throw and drove the line and, having been denied moments earlier when their effort had been held up, this time the try was awarded. The conversion from just right of the post was true and Tynedale were inching back. 33 – 17.
Hoppers regrouped and as Luke Procter came on for Murray to make his one hundredth appearance in a Hoppers’ jersey, they seemed to shake off their lapse of focus as they attacked with a purpose and play was penned within the middle third for a good ten minutes.
With Spence and Declan Norrington replaced by Ed Keohane and Ben Dorrington respectively, they played their way into the Tyndale 22 and a penalty. From the lineout the pack drove their opposition and the ball came out to Hunt who whipped it on to Browne for him to outpace the defence before passing to the supporting Will Clapham to race the last metres down his wing and score in the corner.
Hunt regained his kicking boots and sent the most difficult kick of the afternoon sailing between the uprights. 40 – 17.
There was now just over fifteen minutes to go and with their side more than three converted tries in front, the Hoppers’ fans were beginning to celebrate an impressive win on Ladies’ Day at the club.
But, as has been said many times this year, this is a very close league and there are no easy matches.
Tyndale had obviously read that script and in the last dozen minutes of the match they sparked into action scoring three tries in the last five minutes and, despite two missed conversions, they were able to secure a losing bonus point at the death, the final score, 40 – 34.
Newly appointed Director of Rugby, Alex Keays, was happy with the performance:
“They were chasing the game in the last ten and they had nothing to loose so why not chuck the ball about? They did it well, they’re a decent side, and remember, they had just beaten Fylde. Up until the last couple of tries we had been totally running the game and that’s what we’ve been waiting for, to get control of a game. But as you saw today, we keep slipping as, we get a try and then gift them one but each week we are getting better at not making as many, I won’t call them errors, because I want them to try things out, but they have to be smarter. It wasn’t the decisions to do what they did that were poor, they just have to be better at executing those decisions.
I want them to play rugby that makes those who come to watch feel they have seen a good, entertaining game of rugby and I think we are doing just that more often than not.
Five points gives us a good buffer in the table and whilst we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, we ought to be safe come the end of the season.”
Harrogate come to Lightfoot Green next week with their confidence high after a four point win over Chester, so get down and give the lads your support.
Report by John Le Page, pictures by Mike Craig