PRESTON GRASSHOPPERS 34 – 19 WIRRAL
Words by Ken Moore, picture by Mike Craig – new signing and man of the match Matt Lamprey scored again to bring home the bonus point.
In a competitive, physical confrontation, Hoppers eventually came out comfortable winners over Wirral, third in the league last season, despite playing a man short for 30 minutes. As was the case the week before at Sandal, Hoppers suffered an early yellow card as James Fitzpatrick incurred the wrath of referee Owen Taylor and the visitors took advantage as flanker Rob Pearl touched down under the sticks and full back Jimmy Annetts converted.
Wirral kept up the pressure and tested the home goal-line defence before the ball was turned over and Niall Crosley broke from in-goal and Connor Trueman’s kick and chase was halted deep in the opponents 22. From the resulting line out, the drive for the line was stopped illegally and prop Jack Yarker took a turn in the sin bin. Again the extra man told as Matt Lamprey picked up from the five metre scrum to crash over and Sam Stott’s conversion levelled the scores on 22 minutes.
Hoppers now had the bit between the teeth and were back on the attack from the restart. A loop move between Mark Murray and Fitzpatrick put Niall Crosley over and Stott’s kick was good, as was his penalty 5 minutes later to put his side 17-7 up at the break.
Hoppers started the second period as they had finished the first with the pack dominating in the tight and replacement Oli Trippier got the touchdown from a 5-metre scrum, Stott adding the extras.
It looked as if Hoppers would now pull away but the yellow card curse struck again as Alex Isherwood, newly arrived from the bench, was despatched back to the side-lines and a forward drive propelled hooker Stuart Gratton over for a try, converted by Annetts.
The visitors then changed tactics with No.10 Craig Harvey pinning the home side back with some astute tactical kicking and on 68 minutes full back Annetts stepped his way through a somewhat static defence to touch down and his kick put his side in striking distance, just 5 points adrift. To make matters worse, Hoppers were again reduced to 14 men as wing Trueman saw yellow and again what had been a comfortable lead had been whittled away.
But to their credit, Hoppers did not panic and took the opportunity to take a long range pot at goal to stretch the lead to a commanding 8 points and this time it was replacement Will Hunt who obliged. Now more than one score ahead, Hoppers went all out for the bonus point try and camped in the away 22 with some strong forward play eventually bringing a second touchdown for man-of-the-match Lamprey and Hunt’s last kick conversion was icing on the cake.
Happy Head Coach, Paul Arnold said: “Another bonus point win against a good side with an effective back row. Again, when Wirral hit back in the second half, our heads did not go down and we kept going – great team spirit. We are beginning to gel as a side and at the moment we have good availability of quality players which, in terms of selection, is a good headache to have. We have 50+ players turning up at training and the support is good. Discipline is a worry, we cannot afford to concede yellow cards as we did today but I think they are largely caused by frustration – the players know that we can do better. So far, so good, but we shall continue to strive for perfection!”