Preston Grasshoppers vs Blackburn

Date: 12 February 2022

Preston Grasshoppers 21 – 19 Blackburn

Conditions were very cold and damp as the teams came out in front of an almost packed stand and a big crowd braving the elements in front of the club house. Having drawn the game at Ramsgreave Drive in October, Hoppers were looking to steal some points from their league promotion rivals and move into second place.

Arnie was quite pragmatic before the game,

‘I think we let the occasion get to us at their place which was the first time we’d played each other in the league and I think that some of the players got caught up in the emotion of the fixture but for me today is just another game. We know the importance of it, we need to win to make sure we’re in the promotion spots at the end of the season and we’ve got to play well this afternoon because these are a good side.’

Although the weather was dull with grey skies and rain, the new scoreboard shone some light and colour onto the scene as Hoppers kicked off deep into the Blackburn 22.

Straight away, the home side put their stamp on the game as a fast, linking move, involving Tyler Spence, Chris Taylor and Sam Stott took the ball down to the Blackburn 5m line where it was bundled into touch.

Indeed, Hoppers looked dangerous from the off and with almost ten minutes of the game elapsed, Blackburn had not moved far out of their own 22. However, their robust defending kept their hosts at bay until a penalty on their own 15m line got them to half way.

They then moved on to the Hoppers’ 22 where a break by full back Jarrod had the home side defending in their Red Zone. Hoppers were saved by a knock-on but from their own scrum, 5m out, the clearance by Alex Ward skidded off his boot and crossed touch only a few metres away.

Blackburn drove the lineout and number eight, Richardson dived over for the first of his three tries of the afternoon. The conversion by Gaffey was good and after almost twenty minutes of attacking play inside their opponents’ half, Hoppers found themselves behind at 0 – 7.

The attacks on the Blackburn half resumed with Lamprey breaking from his own 22 to half way where Hoppers were awarded a scrum. A searing break by Stott moved play beyond the 10m line where Ali Murray took the ball and, linked with Ward to pass to Jacob Browne to make his own dash towards the 5m line before the ball was lost forward in a tackle.

With half an hour gone, the game had settled into some sort of pattern with Hoppers pressurizing the Blackburn defence across the field, only to be foiled by a wild pass or a knock-on.

The play became feisty at times as frustration began to show and Sam Gale was given a short lecture by the referee for his over-keen attentions in the loose.

Blackburn kicked a penalty down to the Hoppers’ 22 and from the line-out their forwards put together a short run of phases across the pitch which ended with Richardson crossing the whitewash under the posts and Gaffey securing the extras so at half-time the scoreboard’s bright display showed Blackburn in the lead at 0 – 14.

Hoppers had worked hard throughout the half and the game had been played in the Blackburn third for much of the time. However, with the home side trying to force the play but unable to turn their efforts into points, their visitors had defended well and had been able to capitalize on their two breaks into their hosts’ 22.

Whilst Hoppers had been able to put some good passing phases together, the game had been broken by sloppy handling and some wild passing with knocks-on and penalties denying them any real flow.

The second half started in seriously heavy rain and visibility from the stand was poor at times. Blackburn restarted and Ward, having secured the ball made a soaring kick to touch on the visitors’ 10m line.

The line-out was won by Hoppers and Taylor, linking with the supporting Jordan Dorrington, broke into the Blackburn 22. Possession was lost forward but the scrum was then driven by the home pack and the ball was moved out to Browne, racing up the wing. He was tackled into touch but then a clearing kick from the visitors’ lineout only reached their own 15m line.

Hoppers drove the lineout to within 5 metres where another maul saw Toby Harrison last to emerge from the pile of bodies over the line having scored after less than ten minutes. Ward slotted the conversion and the game was now on.

Whatever Arnie had said in the half time break was certainly having an effect as Hoppers now looked a different side, attacking with prolonged phases inside the Blackburn 22 and driving their pack almost at will.

It was not too long before another driving maul, the result of a series of forward attacks inside the Blackburn Red Zone, again took the home side to the try line where, after pressurizing their opponents into a number of infringements, they were awarded a penalty try. 14 – 14.

Blackburn were not beaten and made a string of attacks which took them into the Preston 22. The home side’s defence held strong and time and again the ball was sent up field by either good kicking or individual breaks from the likes of Lamprey, who carved his way from his own 10m line into the opposition 22, and Browne, linking with Stott to just miss out on another try when the latter’s final pass was fumbled short of the corner.

Hoppers were in full flow now and another move released Browne again who looked to have a certain try when the greasy ball squirted out of his hands as he made to touch down. Nevertheless, the relentless waves of attack from the home side were causing all sorts of problems for Blackburn and with ten minutes remaining, a fast move from the forwards had Taylor running through tackles, passing to Pete Altham who drove his way past the defenders before passing to Lamprey to score near the posts. Ward’s conversion was good and now there was some daylight between the teams with only a few minutes remaining.

But the match was not yet over and when the wet ball was fumbled on the Hoppers’ 5m line Blackburn’s Richardson secured his third try towards the corner.

It looked as though the game was to be a repeat of the previously drawn fixture as Gaffey tee’d up the ball but in the heavy rain his effort failed and the home crowd could breathe again.

The match was then seen out by Hoppers as they resumed their pressure on the Blackburn lines. They looked like taking all the points when a break by Taylor put Ben Dorrington to within a few metres of the try line before he was tackled and the match then finished with a re-set scrum inside the Blackburn 22. At full time Hoppers ran out victors 21 – 19.

Arnie was pleased with the result,

‘I thought in the first half we played in good areas but we just lacked discipline. I keep saying to them, it’s the three ‘Ds’, Discipline, Defence and Desire and if we have those three, we’ll win games.

But Discipline is top of that list and in the first half we had them in good positions and then we were doing things like putting our hands in the ruck and making some wild passes which relieved the pressure on them. We turned them over in our 22 and then gave away two penalties which took us back to 5m out where we ended up conceding a try. It was the same with the second try, penalties allowing them into our 22 so I said to them, ‘Don’t compete for the ball, trust our defensive line and we’ll get into teams’ faces’ which we did in the second half.

They are a good side and have some big lads who made some metres but nobody else really got through the gain line because our defence was that good.

I’m a bit gutted that we didn’t get the bonus point but at 14 – 0 down at half time, I’ll take that.

There were no bad performances this afternoon but two standouts are Lamprey, and I was really pleased with Harry Moulding. He really thrives in the defensive setup I’ve given him and he makes some great tackles as well, there were two on the bounce he made to save the ball in the second half.’

We are on the road again at Lymm next week before two games at home with the re-arranged fixture against Otley, who are still seven points ahead of us at the top of the table, and then Kirkby Lonsdale who drew at Northwich today.

There will be a supporters’ coach going to Lymm so sign up and get behind the lads as they push on for promotion.

Report by John Le Page, pictures by Mike Craig

Blackburn 12 Feb 2022

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