Sale FC 2nd XV 17 Hoppers 2nd XV 12
The second team’s hopes of regaining the Bateman Premier League title were dealt a mortal blow on Saturday as they suffered a surprising defeat against their counterparts from Sale.
Given that Young’s men had scored nearly one hundred points in their two victories over Sale this season it is fair to say that the defeat came as a nasty shock. However Sale’s first team had a week off and the hosts were boosted by at least five players who were not involved when the sides met in the Autumn.
As a result Sale were more organised and disciplined than in the two previous fixtures and had the better of the early possession. Hoppers though were playing into a gale and found it incredibly difficult to clear their lines. They did enjoy dominance in the scrum and Andrew Irving had his counterpart in all sorts of trouble.
Unfortunately for Young’s men this advantage was soon negated when the Sale prop left the field injured. As a result the match resumed with uncontested scrums and for at least the third time this season Hoppers saw one of their primary advantages frustratingly removed from their grasp.
Preston were doing their best to clear their lines but Sale scored first when their outside centre intercepted a loose ball and sprinted in from twenty metres out. The wind aided the conversion and Hoppers were 7-0 behind.
Sale extended their lead shortly after when Hoppers were adjudged to have held on in contact. The vicious wind appeared to be getting stronger but Preston got back in the game with some excellent continuity. Peterson’s weighted pass put Yates through a gap and Hoppers recycled for Irving to score. Farley made a miraculous conversion given the conditions.
Young’s men appeared to have something of a foothold and were chasing another score before half time. However their execution let them down and they could not capitalise. Disaster then struck as Yates was tamely stripped in his own twenty two and the Sale centre had his second gift of the day. Preston were 17-7 behind but were given grounds for optimism when the host’s scrum half was sent to the sin bin for some petulant play. However they were unable to capitalise before the break and made a mess of what should have been a routine line out deep in Sale territory.
Young’s men at least had the benefit of the gale force wind but controlled play and smart decision making would be vital if they were to win the game. They started brightly and some good possession led to Irving’s second try, the highlight being the prop’s sublime dummy. Farley could not repeat his conversion but at 17-12 Hoppers had plenty of time to win the game. They went close but knocked on whilst grounding and Sale played their part, launching some dangerous counter attacks from under their own posts.
Preston had more of the ball and looked the more likely but their execution let them down and they made errors at crucial times. They kept knocking on the door but ran out of time, suffering their third league defeat since the competition split into two conferences.
Hoppers can point to many reasons as to why their results have changed so much since they won their opening fourteen fixtures. Whilst the wheels haven’t come off, the Preston locomotive has stopped at the station of frustration. A crippling injury list has been well documented on these pages and it remains a credit to all involved that Hoppers can field such a competitive squad each weekend. This has been compounded by a lull in confidence, form and fortune at a crucial time, the result being that their major rivals Macclesfield and Sedgley have pulled away at the top of the table.
Despite their frustrations, Hoppers cannot and will not feel sorry for themselves as they host leaders Macclesfield next weekend. The leaders drew with the Tigers yesterday in a result which certainly did Hoppers no favours.