Preston Grasshoppers 32 – 9 York
Speaking to Team captain, Chris Taylor at training last Tuesday, he voiced his thoughts on the match against Otley:
‘I think it’s a wake-up call for the boys. I think that, without offering any excuses, it’s hard to come off a 77 – 0 win to one of the hardest games of the season so early in the season. But if you have a wake-up call it’s better at the start of the season than fifteen games in.
There’s a hard week’s training ahead, we will discuss the match as a squad. It’s obvious the performance wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t up the standard that the Club expects and that we expect of ourselves but the good thing is we have the opportunity to put it right this week. You don’t lose titles at this end of the season but we can certainly start building from here.
I want to say that the support at Otley was amazing, people travelled a long way and it means a lot to the team. Hopefully we can do it justice this Saturday.’
Well, the training, hard or not, certainly paid off.
The team were led out by Peter Altham, celebrating his 150th First Team appearance for the Club, on a sunny, warm afternoon with little or no wind to affect the kickers.
York kicked off and the clock had not reached the first minute before Hoppers, in a series of fast passing moves, had Jacob Browne over the whitewash to the right of the posts for the first try of the afternoon.
Jake Squirrell’s attempt at conversion drifted past the upright but the home side took the lead and stamped a marker on the game.
York responded when they were awarded a penalty four minutes later and Fly-Half Cusack was successful from in front of the posts. 5 – 3.
The game settled into what was to be a pattern for the match as the two packs battled to and fro attacking, defending and wrestling the ball to make ground only to be sent back by clearing kicks. It was during this period that Hoppers’ Luke Proctor was shown a yellow card giving York their second penalty and with Cusack in his kicking boots, they edged in front as the score moved on to 5 – 6.
Hoppers were attracting regular penalties which had them defending all over the middle third but when they were awarded one on the 22m line in front of the York posts, Squirrell slotted the kick to put the home side in the lead again, 8 – 6.
Breaks from both sides took play back and forth in a relentless, stamina sapping battle which saw Browne on the end of a painful ‘stinger’ causing him to leave the field for treatment.
Play resumed, only to be halted five minutes later by what looked like a nasty injury to Hoppers prop Noah Miller. He was treated on the pitch for several minutes before being stretchered off taking no further part in the game. He was replaced by Chris Taylor who had himself been subbed earlier with a knee problem and the match resumed.
Hoppers were driving the York pack well and, whilst not gaining long metres, they were the stronger. Despite York kicking another three points from a penalty on the home 22 in front of the posts, it was another solid push that set Sam Stott, Hoppers’ eventual ‘Man of the Match’, away into the York Red Zone to pass to the supporting Matt Crow who scored under the posts. Squirrell had no trouble with the conversion and the score at half time was 15 – 9.
York had shown themselves to be a powerful and well organised squad but Hoppers were also proving they could match them in what had been an entertaining first half, although the number of penalties, along with injuries, was a cause for concern. Nevertheless, Hoppers had a healthy lead and appeared to be able to maintain their game plan holding the high defensive line that had proved successful against Northwich two weeks ago.
Hoppers restarted the match and the play was almost a copy of the first half as Alex Taylorson ran in just left of the posts and Squirrell added the extras. With two minutes gone the score stood at 22 – 9.
York then restarted and with play moving up and down over the half way line, York kicked forward into a wide open space but, with players racing after it, the ball ran out dead.
From the scrum on half way Hoppers broke with Stott making long strides, shaking off tackles on the way and passing to his wingman Crow who continued the run, finally offloading to Squirrell who scored to the right of the posts. He tee’d up the ball but the kick drifted wide and with only seven minutes elapsed, Hoppers were in the driving seat at 27 – 9.
The game then returned to the forwards battle with both sides attacking and defending well. York were pressing the Hoppers’ line when their winger, Hodges, went down in the tackle. He was obviously in great pain and after treatment by both team’s physio’s, he was stetched off with a badly dislocated ankle. Whilst that was happening, attention was also required by Hoppers’ centre Crow who also left the field nursing a painful leg.
Hoppers began to dominate the York pack and from a lineout on half way, Euan Naylor made a break in which he made a good twenty metres before passing to Ali Murray to press on into the York 22 where the ball was taken by Tyler Spence who was only stopped inside the York 5m line from which a penalty kick was awarded to the home side. The 5m line-out was collected by Taylor who scored towards the corner. The conversion attempt by Ben Pearson missed the mark but with less than fifteen minutes of the match remaining, Hoppers were 32 – 9 in front and looking strong.
The half was played out without further score, the two notable events being the yellow card given to Browne (his first whilst playing for the 1St XV) for being the latest of the Hoppers’ side to be offside, and the move to uncontested scrums after Taylor had to leave the field having nursed his previous injury as far as he could. The matched finished 32 – 9.
Arnie was pleased with the performance,
‘We scored from the kick-off, which everyone was celebrating apart from me because we kind of switch off! The first twenty minutes was difficult because we didn’t come to terms with how the referee was interpreting the breakdown which is what I said to them at half time. They needed to be a bit more ‘rugby intelligent’. It took us seven penalties and a yellow card before we got to terms with it.
Our defence was outstanding and what really pleased me was that last three minutes when they were on our line, I think Rob Meadows and Sam Gale went from touchline to touchline three or four times to make cover tackles. But that shows the work rate and desire if we want to be up at the business end of the table come the end of the season. When we kept the ball today we broke them but I just wanted the game to end because of the injuries. Noah looks like he may be out for a while, Chris was like Lazarus, on crutches one minute and then back on the field the next to score in the corner at the end and Matt seems to have pulled a hamstring. We’ve had three bad injuries in the first three games and when we think of the start we had in our relegation season I had hoped we had left that behind us.
I asked some of the lads to let the rugby do the talking today and they did just that, we had just one voice in Chris and the rest kept quiet and got on with their jobs.
I was really proud of them, Ben Pearson, in his first game at ten and in his first season of mens’ rugby did very well. I thought Sam Stott was outstanding, as was Ali Murray along with Euan Naylor, the birthday boy today, they all put in really good shifts. It’s not perfect and we know we’ve got a lot to work on. They’re not a bad side, they pushed Otley better than we did and then scored fifty last week at Kirkby Lonsdale so they were always going to be competitive.
We have Macclesfield here next week who are going to be another stern test. They, along with Otley are confident contenders for the promotion places and I feel we have to be in that mix.’
Report by John Le Page, picture by Mike Craig