Preston Grasshoppers vs Wirral

Date: 26 March 2022

Preston Grasshoppers 61 – 0 Wirral

After a weekend off for the lads it was great to see them run out to take on Wirral in front of a good crowd, in bright, warm, early Spring weather.

The previous encounter at the Memorial Ground had been a dour, slog of a game in arctic conditions, so hopes were high for a more open, expansive encounter.

Wirral kicked off and immediately Hoppers were on the attack with Toby Harrison taking the ball from a lineout on the Wirral 10m line into their 22 where a penalty was awarded to the visitors. It gave them a lineout on their 10m line but it was not straight and although Hoppers took a quick tap, the ball was then stolen and cleared to the home 22.

The first real break came with Tyler Spence collecting the ball on his wing and then chipping forward. It was knocked into touch for a lineout to Hoppers on the Wirral 22.

The ball was secured and quickly moved through several hands before reaching Spence once more whereupon he darted round the remaining defenders to score under the posts. Ben Pearson kicked the extras and after seven minutes Hoppers were off the mark, 7 – 0.

Wirral restarted but the ball didn’t travel the required 10m. Their hosts gained a penalty from the scrum and from the lineout, in a classic passing sequence, the ball went from Matt Lamprey to Sam Stott, on to Spence, out to Jacob Brown, finally ending in the capable hands of Sam Gale who had only to touch the ball down under the posts. Again, Pearson was on target and Hoppers were 14 – 0 up.

The third try was not long in coming. Pearson gathered a towering box kick under pressure from two Wirral forwards and was awarded a penalty for his efforts. The kick took the home side down to the visitors’ 22.

Chris Taylor fooled everyone as he set up for the usual, middle-of-line-throw, only to send it short to Oga Mbaya at the front. He battled to the line before offloading to Taylor who just had to trot around the stunned defenders and dot down left of the posts. Pearson’s conversion attempt drifted just wide of the upright but Hoppers were now in command and Wirral did not seem to have an answer at this point in the game. 19 – 0.

The referee then had to warn both captains for the high tackling by both sides but, almost immediately, it was apparent that the message did not get through to the Wirral number 4, Hayden Long, who, having roused the wrath of the referee, was duly sent to the naughty step for ten minutes.

With their opposition reduced to fourteen, the blazing breaks by Hoppers kept on coming. From a lineout just inside the Wirral half, the ball sped through the hands of Stott, Jordan Dorrington, Browne and Spence before Pearson collected the final pass to score the Bonus Point just by the post. He quickly converted his own try and with thirteen minutes of the half remaining, the score now read 26 – 0.

Only a couple of minutes had elapsed on Wirral’s yellow card when things were evened up with Harrison on the receiving end of the referee’s displeasure.

However, it didn’t help the Cheshire lads as they desperately tried to defend a series of phases form the Hoppers’ forwards which took them into the Red Zone where Rob Bramhall scored the first of his brace of the afternoon to the right of the posts. Pearson Converted and at half time the score stood at 33 – 0.

Hoppers had started fast and hard, just about putting the match to bed with forty minutes to go. Wirral had made ground on several occasions but each time they were repulsed by the ever-dominant Hoppers’ defence.

Countless passing phases from all across the field had put the home side in the driving seat, aided, not least, by Pete Altham’s redefining of the term ‘crash ball’ as he burst through tackles time and again.

Wirral had tried to play a physical, bullying game but could not get through their hosts’ defence and as the second half started this developed into frustration and a bout of ‘handbags’ from which yellow cards were shown to Wirral’s Ben Brooks and Hoppers’ Jordan Dorrington.

Hoppers had a scrum 25m out from the Wirral line. Lamprey broke away to the 22 before passing to Spence who tore down the wing. It looked as though he had made the corner but the ball was deemed to have been knocked into touch and a lineout was awarded to the lads in white.

A trademark catch from Harrison saw him peel away from the line to score the sixth try and Pearson, kicking from right of the posts slotted the ball easily. 40 – 0.

For the second time the restart did not go ten metres and with Hoppers driving the scrum at will, a move started by Ally Murray who passed to Ben Dorrington (having come on for Bramhall) to make clear ground before handing it to Will Clapham to go in under the posts. With the conversion by Pearson almost a formality, the score rolled on to 47 – 0.

Things didn’t improve for Wirral when Browne received the ball on his own 10m line and wove his way through several tackles before the ball was deliberately knocked on and another yellow card was shown, this time to Wirral Full Back, Crowley.

Hoppers took instant advantage and it was Jordan Dorrington’s turn to cross the whitewash just by the right hand post and again, Pearson converted. 54 – 0.

Shortly after the restart an injury to the Wirral number 4, who had to be helped off the pitch, resulted in uncontested scrums for a while. However, nothing changed for the visitors and with six minutes left on the clock, Bramhall scored the final try, Pearson converted and at the final whistle Hoppers had added their sixth victory to nil of the season. The final score was 61 – 0.

Director of Rugby, Gareth Dyer, acknowledged the performance:

‘We set off at a goodly tempo and put the game to bed early on so I’m pretty pleased. We now have a style of playing and we know what we want to do with the ball. In some respects we could have had another twenty points. There were times when we perhaps over-played and at others, under-played, so we didn’t quite get the balance but, in the end, we had too much power, too much fitness for them.

The character of the team is the key here. They came to spoil the game and the yellow cards showed the frustration that built up. It’s a credit to our lads that they didn’t allow that to affect them and despite teams coming back at them in like this in the closing stages, they’ve been able to keep them out and finish the games.’

Alnwick away is looking like the final major hurdle for the lads as they now sit second in the table having 98 points with Blackburn seven points behind. The last three matches have everything to play for so keep up the support and let’s get them into the next tier.

Report by John Le Page, pictures by Mike Craig

Wirral 26 Mar 2022

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