Sandal vs Preston Grasshoppers

Date: 02 October 2021

Sandal 12-56 Preston Grasshoppers

September went, and with it the fine, late summer weather. The October rain had been incessant during the trip across the Pennines and it showed only little signs of letting up as the teams took to the field.

Sandal kicked off and began to press the Hoppers’ defence inside the 10m line. The forwards were sounding each other out and a succession of scrums and penalties made for a disjointed start to the match so it was ten minutes before the visitors made their mark.

From a line out on their own 10m line the ball was secured by Sam Gale and passed to Chris Taylor who gave it to Rob Meadows to break down the field to the Sandal 22. Moving it on to the supporting Ben Pearson, he in turn supplied Taylor who, having started the move, crossed the line just right of the posts. Pearson stroked the ball over the bar and after ten minutes Hoppers were leading 0 – 7.

Sandal restarted and their forwards resumed their powerful attacking game with a succession of scrums and line-outs moving the play up and down the middle third of the pitch.

A break by Matt Lamprey took Hoppers up to the Sandal 22 only for the final pass to be deemed forward. Now the visitors’ pack were driving their hosts’ scrum with a will and from the base Pearson collected the ball and darted through under the posts. He quickly converted his try and the score as the clock ticked into the second quarter of the game, moved on to 0 – 14.

From the restart a bout of ‘handbags’ broke out and the referee stopped play to speak to the captains the result of which was the award of a penalty to Sandal. They moved up to the Hoppers’ 5m line and from the line-out they managed to drive over the try line in the corner.

Despite the rain having eased and the total lack of any wind, the conversion from wide on the wing failed but Sandal were on the scoreboard. 5 – 14.

Hoppers restarted and having secured the ball, Sandal moved up to their 10m line where they were awarded a scrum. The Hoppers’ pack drove over them and Lamprey took the ball. He passed to Luke Procter who broke to the Sandal Red Zone and moved it back to Lamprey to cross the whitewash left of the posts. Pearson again added the extras and the score stood at 5 – 21.

The game restarted and play for the following five minutes went back and forth across the half way line until Hoppers gained a scrum just inside their hosts’ half. Once again the home pack were driven back and in a glorious, flowing move which saw Lamprey secure from the base and pass to Meadows, who then moved it on to Sam Stott for him to give it to Craig Procter bursting up the wing. The ball was knocked forward in the tackle but Hoppers were pressing the Sandal defence inside their own 5m line.

The Bonus Point try was inevitable and Lamprey collected the ball to break to the try line. Pearson completed the exercise to make the score 5 – 28 as half time approached.

With four converted tries in the bag, the travelling fans, augmented by a group of visitors from Fylde, had been royally entertained and it wasn’t over yet.

Pearson took the ball from the restart and executed a superb spiralling kick from his own 10m line to find touch in the Sandal 22. Sam Gale won the line-out and Pearson took the ball, passed to Meadows who made a break to the 5m line for Lamprey to receive it and score his third try of the afternoon. Once again Pearson hit the target with what was the last act of the half. 5 – 35

Sandal had started well and in the early play looked to take the game to Hoppers. They were strong and quick but their visitors were well organised and both forwards and backs had shown some excellent passing moves with the ball going at speed through several hands and the team making great ground time and again.

The Sandal pack was struggling in the scrum where Hoppers were totally dominant and had driven them at will. Breaks from all over the pitch had given Hoppers an impressive lead and as the teams returned, the spectators were hoping for more.

Hoppers restarted and the game resumed its former pattern with play across the pitch in the middle third. From a Sandal line-out on the Hoppers’ 10m line the ball was won and passed to Pete Altham making good metres before giving it to Taylor who was then tackled high with an arm straight to the neck. Sandal number five, Thompson was immediately sent to the naughty step for ten minutes.

Taylor was fit to continue and play moved on with Hoppers pressing the Sandal defence once more. The forwards then began a running move which involved several players passing in support of each other and exuding confidence as Lamprey gave a ‘no-look’ pass out of the back of his hands to eventually put Stott in under the posts for the sixth try. With Pearson’s boots in ‘GPS mode’ the conversion winged its way over the bar and Hoppers had a commanding lead at 5 – 42.

Three minutes later that became 5 – 49 when Tyler Spence collected the ball inside the Sandal half and broke through to the line.

The last of Hoppers’ tries followed quickly when they were awarded a penalty which took them to the Sandal 22. The line-out was secured, the ball moved from Stott to Jordan Dorrington and into the 5m line where Ollie Trippier collected the pass and crossed just left of the uprights. Pearson completed his 100% tally and with ten minutes of the game left, Hoppers were in an unassailable lead.

Jake Squirrell was having a good match and the next passage of play changed from the forwards action to a session of ‘kick tennis’ as the ball went back and forth to each side’s 22. Things calmed down and Hoppers made several substitutions before Sandal suddenly found themselves attacking inside their visitors’ 22. In a scrappy piece of play, Pearson managed to make a clearing kick but it was charged down by Sandal’s centre, Grainger who followed the ball to the line to score. The try was converted but with only a few minutes left when the final whistle sounded Hoppers had won the match 12 – 56.

Arnie was pleased with the performance:

‘I was really happy with the way we played today because despite the conditions we showed that we weren’t scared of playing our game and we stuck to the plan.

I think we always knew it was going to be dogged, they have a good pack and they got stuck in from the start. We obviously dominated them in the scrum, our back five worked really well and put a lot of pressure on at the breakdown.

We scored some really nice tries and I thought there were some impressive performances, Jordan Dorrington and Tyler Spence came back today, Craig Procter, on his first start was solid and did nothing wrong and then Rob Meadows on the wing who, considering he’s a seven, is still keeping his shirt each week.

The pack was outstanding and we managed to rotate the subs well as it’s a big hill to play up in the second half and I thought the energy levels were superb all the way through.

Jake Squirrell has now had the best three games I’ve seen. I’ve given him a bit more of a defensive role and he seems to be really enjoying it. He put in some really solid hits in defence, his box kicking was excellent today and his decision making was tremendous.’

The lads have a week off next weekend and Arnie has given them a training break this week too but we resume the campaign on the 16th of this month at home to Billingham, who now sit two places below us in the table in fourth place having lost to Otley today.

Report by John Le Page, picture by Mike Craig

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