Preston Grasshoppers 99-0 Kirkby Lonsdale
After the satisfying win last week against Otley, Head Coach Paul Arnold decided to rest one or two of the squad and give opportunities to some young players who had shown their worth in the 2nd XV.
Baille Leatham took the number one position for his first start after being on the bench in previous fixtures and there were places for Harry Holden who has impressed this season at Hooker, and Declan Norrington at 5. Jake Squirrell resumed his usual position at 9 and Euan Naylor and Alex Taylorson were on the bench.
The conditions were good. The sky was clear, there was a noticeable breeze, and whilst it was bitterly cold for the faithful along the fence, the players had little to prevent an entertaining afternoon of running rugby.
For the second time in successive matches, the sides were led out by Club Captain, Ally Murray who, having equalled the Club record last week, was making his record-breaking 230th appearance in league matches.
The fans may have thought that this game would either be a confident five-pointer or perhaps a banana skin, waiting to stall their team’s unbeaten run. However, for once, the scoreboard told the whole story. Hoppers were just too strong for a Kirkby Lonsdale side who had had a very difficult season.
The visitors kicked off, the ball was secured and passed to captain Sam Stott to make the first of his storming breaks from deep in his own half. He passed to Ben Dorrington inside the Kirkby 10m line who pressed through the defence before feeding his brother, Jordan, to slice through the remaining opposition and score under the posts Ben Pearson stroked the ball over the cross bar and Hoppers were up and running in less than thirty seconds.
The visitors were then shell-shocked by what was almost a replay of what they had just witnessed when Stott, again collecting the restart ball at speed, carved his way through to the try line to double the tally just ninety seconds later. Pearson slotted his second conversion, 14 – 0.
Kirkby Lonsdale’s restart didn’t help them when it ballooned back onto the half way line giving a scrum to the home side. This was the first opportunity for Matt Lamprey to make his mark and he broke through several tackles into the Kirkby Lonsdale 10m line. From there, a penalty gave Hoppers a lineout on the 22 and set up an attack on the try line. The visitors gained a welcome scrum of their own but were then powerfully driven and it was re-set twice before their hosts were awarded a penalty. Jake Squirrell took a quick tap and put Lamprey in at the post for the first of his five tries of the afternoon. Pearson added the extras to make it 21 – 0 after less than ten minutes.
It was beginning to look like the supporters might see the fastest Bonus Point of the season, as Jordan Dorrington jinked his way from 10m to 10m to release Tyler Spence who then slipped in and out of the bewildered defenders before passing to Jacob Browne, racing through on his outside. The pass was deemed forward however, and Kirkby could breathe again.
The visitors then had a brief period of possession which resulted in a penalty of their own and the chance of a lineout on the Hoppers’ 22. The kick stayed in field and the ball was secured by Lamprey who battled his way down the Kirkby Lonsdale 22. He passed to Pearson to move it to Declan Norrington who, with Toby Harrison and Ben Dorrington providing support, took Hoppers to the Red Zone only for the latter to be held up by some desperate defending on the try line.
The match had just moved into the second quarter when the Bonus Point try was achieved. From another driven scrum, the ball came to Jordan Dorrington. He made quick metres and passed to Spence, the ball was moved out to Harrison and then back to Spence to score towards the corner. This time Pearson’s attempt from wide on the wing missed but the score trundled on to 26 – 0.
By this time Kirkby Lonsdale must have been wondering what they could do to stem the flow of points and things didn’t get better when, for the second time, their restart did not make 10 metres. Hoppers secured the ball from the scrum and, making their way up field, were awarded a penalty. Squirrell tapped and a sharp, linking move from Holden to Norrington, and then on to Ally Murray, sent Jordan Dorrington in at the right hand corner for his second of the afternoon. Having failed with the previous kick from the wing, Pearson was intent on hitting his target and managed to achieve it albeit with a little help from the top of the upright which steered it between the posts. 33 – 0.
The sixth try came minutes later when Murray charged through repeated tackles to feed Lamprey to score under the posts. The conversion by Pearson was good and on the thirty minute mark the score stood at 40 – 0.
A bleak afternoon just got worse for the visitors when a high tackle which abruptly stopped Spence on his way to what looked like yet another try, had a yellow card shown to the Kirkby defender. The penalty found touch on the 5m line. The ball was then collected from the lineout by Norrington who crossed the whitewash mid-way between the post and the left corner flag when he was driven over by his pals in the pack. Once again Pearson was accurate, 47 – 0.
The assault on the Kirkby Lonsdale 22 was relentless and another linking move, this time started with a break by Baille Leatham who made good metres before feeding Stott racing through to make ground before his pass to Lamprey, who then gave it back to Leatham to dive for over his maiden try but his outstretched arm was just centimetres short of the line.
With half time approaching, the fifty mark was reached when Lamprey scored his third and Pearson’s kick was the last act of a totally dominant first session by the home side. 54 – 0.
Whilst the half had been all Hoppers, Kirkby Lonsdale had not given up and although they had had no answer to the relentless waves of attack, they had been able to play some encouraging forays into their opponents’ half of the pitch.
Hoppers had made breaks at will from all over the field and the scoreboard didn’t lie, they were in full command of the game.
From the restart by Hoppers, and with only ninety seconds on the watch, Alex Taylorson collected the ball and ran in under the posts. The conversion by Pearson was good. 61 – 0.
At this point play was stopped for attention to one of the Kirkby Lonsdale players who was treated for some minutes on the field before being chair-lifted off with a nasty leg injury.
When play resumed it was Spence who benefitted from another passage of play which moved the ball swiftly across the field for him to dot down in the corner. With Pearson now kicking with the strengthening breeze behind him, the two points were added and Kirkby Lonsdale’s afternoon of misery continued. 68 – 0.
It would be easy to gloss over the rest of the match but it is important to note that at no time did Kirkby Lonsdale capitulate. They kept trying to penetrate the Hoppers’ defence and did have some encouraging, albeit short, phases of possession. However, with another of their starting forwards taken off, this time with a knock to the head, the fates were stacked against them.
By then, Lamprey had added to his tally with a fourth try as he peeled from the scrum although Pearson had not been able to convert it.
Jordan Dorrington then completed his hat trick when Spence scampered through a series of tackles to feed him in just to the side of the posts to make it 80 – 0.
The scores kept coming. Lamprey claimed his fifth try, again unconverted, as the game moved into the final quarter. The victory to nil was secured when Ben Dorrington and finally, Harrison, scored in the last five minutes. Pearson regained his composure, converting both tries to see out the win, 99 – 0.
Arnie was full of praise for both sides:
‘It’s a shame that Kirkby have got a few problems but all we can do is play what’s in front of us. I said to the lads at half time, ‘we show them respect by sticking to our game plan’ and whilst beating them soundly, it is the only way you can respect a team – by playing to the best of your ability.
I was pleased by the way we stuck to our guns because it’s sometimes easy to take your foot off the pedal in games like this. They defended well when they lost the ball and credit to Kirkby, they kept tackling but we scored some really nice tries.
It’s difficult though. I think it doesn’t do you any favours when there is a tough away game next week and we will have to refocus. All the lads who came into the side got a run out today and played really well. Harry and Declan, Alex and Euan all performed well and Bailee Leatham on his debut had a good game, not just in the scrum but around the park as well, nearly scoring a maiden try.
Fair play to Kirkby, they are a great bunch of lads with a great coaching set-up, they kept coming at us and the game was played in a good spirit.’
We travel to Rossendale next Saturday but without another of the regular team coach squad, as Club President, ‘Dad’ Brierley will be sidelined for a few weeks with an on-going knee problem which might see him sprinting down the wing again after he gets over the operation(!). We wish him a speedy recovery and look forward hopefully to see him return for the trip to Alnwick.
The 1869 club are running a coach to Rossendale so sign up on the board to continue your support for the team as they bear down on promotion.
Report by John Le Page, pictures by Mike Craig