Preston Grasshoppers vs Northwich

Date: 04 September 2021

Preston Grasshoppers 77 – 0 Northwich

Rugby is back at Lightfoot Green!

And what a return! On a bright, warm, late summer afternoon, the Preston faithful, who were there in numbers, were treated to a try- fest.

Starved of rugby for so long and, after that sorry season of injuries, losses and relegation, and probably wondering what was in store, they were presented with a display of fast, attacking rugby which was great to watch and showed a side re-built and eager to put the past behind them.

Hoppers kicked off and the forwards were immediately pressing into the Northwich 22, gaining a line-out ten metres out. The ball was secured by Matt Lamprey and driven by the forwards towards the line where Luke Procter scored the first of his two tries to the left of the post. Tom Walker wasted no time and as his kick sailed through the uprights, Hoppers were 7 – 0 up inside two minutes.

The restart kick was collected by newly appointed Club Captain, Ally Murray and was fed on to Walker who kicked forward. Jordan Dorrington caught it on the half way line and broke through three tackles on his way to the Northwich red zone. He was finally brought down and the ball was kicked away by the visitors only to make touch on their own 10m line. From the quickly taken line-out the ball went forward and Northwich were relieved to have a scrum on their 22 only to be immediately penalised for holding on. From 25m out and in front of the posts Walker stroked the ball over for a ten point lead.

From the restart a kick-and-chase by Jacob Browne took Hoppers up to their opponents’ 10m line but the ball was deemed to have touched the paint so play came back to the Preston 10m line and a line-out to the visitors. Hoppers took the ball and the backs broke forward, Browne passing to Dorrington to take them to the Northwich 22 where Sam Stott completed the move by touching down left of the posts. This time Walker’s kick floated just wide of the upright but after ten minutes the score was 15 – 0.

Northwich restarted and Sam Gale combined with Murray making good ground until the latter was halted by a high tackle. Play moved up to the visitors’ 10m line where they found themselves desperately defending against the powerful forward attacks.

Hoppers were awarded a penalty on half way and a quick tap had Browne and Dorrington racing forward only to be hustled into touch on the Northwich 22 and a line-out.

A jinking break by Browne took Hoppers from their own 10m line towards the Northwich 22 where the ball was lost in the tackle. The kick to clear went out on the full and this time Hoppers had their own line-out but the throw was not straight enough for the referee.

With a quarter of the match gone, Hoppers gained a penalty from a Northwich scrum on half way. Walker found touch inside the 22 and from the line-out the forwards drove on with Lamprey passing to Walker who moved it on to Oga Mabaya, having just come on for Oli Trippier, to take it into the Northwich 5m line. The forwards continued to compete until a yellow card given to Northwich’s Thomas Wilson resulted in a penalty 5m out in front of the posts.

Team Captain, Chris Taylor, opted for the scrum and the pack obliged with a powerful drive, Lamprey peeled from the base and delivered the ball to Stott to score wide to the right of the post. Walker again knocked the ball goalwards only to see it slip past the post in the light breeze. With half an hour gone, Hoppers were three tries to the good and the score stood at 20 – 0.

The ensuing five minutes saw Northwich doggedly defending wave after wave of Hoppers attacks as they were driven time and again but from a penalty on half way the home side had a line-out on the 22 which was collected by Lamprey and driven yet again for Taylor to score the first Bonus Point of the season wide to the left of the posts. This time Walker’s boot was on form and the longest conversion so far sailed over the bar to move the score on after thirty five minutes, to 27 – 0.

Hoppers pressed on with the forwards driving up the field in the face of crunching tackles, to the opposition 22. The ball was lost in a tackle but immediately won back, stripped from the defenders by Noah Miller who gave it to the supporting Lamprey to score. The conversion was good and the score at the end of the half was 34 – 0.

Hoppers had been dominant throughout the session. A high line and fast handling had left the Northwich side struggling to gain any possession. Both sides put in a lot of solid tackles but for the first time in a long time Hoppers were quick to regain any loose ball and convert that possession into points. Breaks by both the forwards and the backs moved the ball swiftly and decisively through the opposition.

Northwich, only promoted at the end of the last playing season, had no time to take in what was happening and it was noticeable that they stayed out on the field during the break and there was much intense discussion.

The second half got under way and from a Northwich scrum inside their hosts’ half the Hoppers pack drove to the half way line. Lamprey picked up from the base to send Will Clapham racing down the touchline leaving all in his wake to score try number six. The conversion from wide on the wing curved past the upright but as the spectators were still taking their seats, the score moved on to 39 – 0.

From the restart, Northwich gained a line-out on the Hoppers 22 only to be denied the ball as Murray rose to steal it. Jake Squirrell, making his fiftieth appearance in the First Team, kicked up to the Northwich 10m line where a knock-on gave the visitors the respite of a scrum. It was re-set and Hoppers drove forward. The ball was taken by Squirrell to start a glorious running move which saw it passed to Dorrington, then to Murray, on to Mabaya who gave it to Taylor who then presented it to Ben Pearson on the 22 for him to run in just right of the posts. Walker struck again and the scoreboard moved on to 46 – 0.

The eighth try was not long coming as a series of scrums and drives took the home side towards the Northwich 22 where Lamprey collected it and broke forward, scoring wide to the left of the uprights. Then Walker added the extras, 53 – 0.

The third quarter was approaching completion when play was stopped for a serious-looking injury to Clapham. He was treated on field for several minutes by Lucy Gray, Hoppers’ recently appointed Sports Therapist, before being stretchered off and taken to hospital.

Play restarted and again Northwich were under pressure from a break involving Squirrell, Lamprey and Dorrington which moved Hoppers to the Northwich 22. The visitors were awarded a scrum inside their 22 only for the Hoppers pack to drive them once again. The ball came out but was retained by the defending side and cleared to half way. From the line-out Hoppers had a penalty on the Northwich 10m line but the ball failed to find touch. They won the it back and from the 22m line Proctor broke to score try number nine just short of the right hand corner from where the conversion attempt failed. With fifteen minutes left the score moved on to 58 – 0.

Northwich were still battling and kept the hosts at bay until on the seventieth minute a drive enabled Toby Harrison to feed Dorrington who broke from the 22 to score under the posts. The light breeze caused no problems for Walker and Hoppers were 65 points up with ten minutes of the match remaining.

It was just two minutes later that Gale took the ball and, breaking forward, he passed to Ben Dorrington who ran through the opposition to their 22 and presented it to Tyler Spence to score in the corner. The conversion was well wide but the 70 points were on the board.

The final try was scored on seventy nine minutes when Spence collected a pass on half way and showing a clean pair of heels, he raced to the line to score. Walker’s kick was good and the score at full time was 77 – 0.

After the match Arnie said,

‘It’s great to be back and having the fans here after so long, 77 – 0 was good. Next week at Otley is going to be a completely different test but, credit to Northwich, they stuck at it, they battled hard all the way through.

There are a few things we need to get sharper on. At times, because we were breaking them easily we lost our shape. We definitely know that next week is not going to be easy but, overall I am happy.

We wanted to start well and we have a number of lads who haven’t started before and have now got the chance to make that shirt their own. It’s a young, exciting back line and I think at times they looked really dangerous today, the pack looked solid and I think we have to play to our strengths. The work rate was high and credit must go to Jamie Bantleman who has got the side ready and to Lucy who got lads, who we thought wouldn’t make the first game because of their injuries, fit again, so a lot of what happened today has been down to the backroom staff who have made it easy for me and Byron to put the plans into place and take the win.’

Byron McGuigan was also pleased with the start,

‘Yes, I’m really chuffed for the boys, obviously, after a long lay-off it was important to get a strong team out and for them to perform the way they did today was fantastic, especially with all these people coming down to watch them.

The team were able to put our game plan into operation and whilst there is still a long way to go there are still improvements to be made but overall I am happy. To get 77 points is never easy but they stuck at it for eighty minutes and that is probably what I am most pleased about, the work rate was phenomenal.’

Ally Murray was also pleased with the afternoon’s work,

‘It was really good to be back and what’s even better is seeing the amount of people who have come down to come and support us. It’s been tough time for everyone but we’re back now, let’s leave that in the past and let’s focus on next week and the season ahead.

We have a tough game next week away to Otley who are probably favourites for the league in my opinion but we will go there with a lot of confidence after a good win today. We left a few points out there but 77 – 0 is a good result.

I genuinely thought the game would be much scrappier with a lot more scrums and penalties so the performance was satisfying. We have a DNA in our squad and we said before the match, ‘If we stick to that DNA or anywhere near it we will be competitive in every game’.

I think the performance spoke for itself, especially with the scoreboard but I think quietly, we’re a bit disappointed.

The coaches have really drilled it into us to get pressure on the opposition when we’ve not got the ball and the high line enabled us to do that. We have some very exciting and fast backs but, having said that, defence wins leagues. We saw that in the Lions Tour where South Africa beat the Lions by incredible defence and a good maul game and the best part of the game today was driving them over from twenty-five metres!’

The season is off to a good start and it was great to hear singing from the changing room again after so long.

There is a supporters’ coach going to Otley so sign up and let’s continue the support. Today is hopefully the start of a long awaited recovery for the Club.

Report by John Le Page, pictures by Mike Craig

Northwich 4 Sep 2021

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