Sheffield Tigers vs Hoppers

Date: 16 February 2019

Sheffield Tigers 24 – 27 Preston Grasshoppers

Preston Grasshoppers travelled to Dore Moor with confidence after their impressive win against Leicester Lions last week. After Arnie’s decision to view the match from the roof, Ryan Carlson displayed his own individual approach to the game by sleeping on the floor of the coach all the way to Sheffield and missing the wonderful views as we went over Snake Pass!

On top of the moors above Sheffield, in bright sunshine, Hoppers kicked off and with the strong, cool wind blowing directly down the field from behind them, found themselves under attack straight away.

Tigers broke to the Preston 22 and when number 4, Symcox crossed the line, the visitors were 5-0 down within two minutes as, fortunately for them the conversion hung in the wind and dropped short of the posts.

A break by Adam Howard four minutes later took the play down to the Tigers’ 22. They defended well and pushed their visitors back to the half way line where they gave away a penalty which reduced the deficit as Tom Davidson, with the wind behind him, slotted the ball between the uprights from just inside the Tigers’ half.

Hoppers then settled into their game keeping possession through several phases which took them deep into the Tigers’ territory and another series of phases had the forwards pressing the Sheffield line. A lineout on the Tigers’ 5m line was collected by eventual man of the match, Ryan Carlson, who broke to the try line and scored their first try just left of the upright. Davidson’s conversion was good and order was restored with the score at 5-10.

Tigers restarted and two minutes later were denied a further score of their own when a penalty bounced away off the upright. They then mounted a succession of attacks deep in the Preston half but, as has been seen throughout much of this season, the Hoppers’ defence remained strong.

The home side had a lot of possession and as the game ebbed and flowed they were awarded several penalties which, despite the wind in their faces, kept them deep in the Preston half.

Then it was Hoppers’ turn and from a penalty on the halfway line they gained a lineout on the Sheffield 22. Matt Lamprey secured the ball and passed to James Fitzpatrick who broke towards the Tigers’ line, passed to Alex Hurst who then put the ball out to winger Scott Jordan for him to go over for Hoppers’ second try. The conversion was good and extended their lead to 5-17 with less than six minutes to half time.

Sheffield responded and Hoppers were once again defending their line. A series of passing moves enabled Tigers’ number 6, Wallace, to score just wide of the posts, the conversion from Ireland was good and the teams went in with the score at 12-17.

The half had been fairly balanced in terms of possession and attack. The Tigers had shown some quick and deft passing from their running backs and the Hoppers’ forwards had defended solidly but, as has been seen so often the case this season, the frequent penalties awarded did not help flowing rugby from either side.

Arnie used his half time session to explain to the lads (apparently with the dramatic use of some visual aids in the form of furniture!) where he thought they needed to apply their efforts.

As a result Hoppers started the second half with real intent and in the first minute, after a yellow card was shown to the Sheffield scrum half Holmes for a deliberate knock-on, the penalty kick from Davidson against the wind and in front of the posts extended their lead to 12-20.

Momentum was with the visitors and a break to the Tigers’ 22 by Alex Hurst resulted in a penalty when he was tackled high. From the lineout on the Sheffield 5m line a series of phases moved the ball to James Gough who crossed the line for the Hoppers’ third try. Although the wind had calmed a little it was still a significant factor but Davidson confidently put the ball over and the lead extended to 12-27.

Hoppers were now eyeing the bonus point try but were immediately put under pressure as their hosts mounted a period of sustained attacks. Having managed to push the Tigers back to the halfway line, a chip over the Hoppers’ defence had Matt Lamprey on his own in a twenty-five metre foot race for the ball with two Sheffield players. He beat them both, secured the ball and the travelling fans breathed again.

However, the Tigers kept up their onslaught and were rewarded with a try on fifty-one minutes. The conversion was good and they were back in the game.

Bouyed by their success, the home side pressed on and from a lineout on the Hoppers’ 5m line they managed a rare drive and centre Hart dropped on the ball to score their second converted try in five minutes and gain the bonus point.

Hoppers regained their composure and had possession of the ball for much of the remainder of the match. A chance of a fourth try was dashed as Nathan Pope sprinted down the left wing unchallenged only to lose his footing five metres from the line.

Sheffield had a second spell of playing with just fourteen men as Symcox was shown a yellow card for a high tackle but Hoppers were unable to make any progress this time. They opted for the scrum penalty only five metres from the Tigers’ line but an unnecessary early push lost them the advantage and Sheffield moved back up the field away from danger.

With less than ten minutes to the end of the match and despite plenty of possession Hoppers were unable to break through and the match finished 24-27. Although they had missed a bonus-point win, this was the first ‘double’ this season after the victory at Lightfoot Green in October.

After the match Arnie was pleased with the result,

“I was disappointed with the lack of enthusiasm shown in the first half and I had harsh words at half time. They came out and dominated the first fifteen minutes of the second half so I am really happy with character they displayed. Sheffield Tigers are a good side and dangerous as they fight for survival in this league and in these conditions with such a strong wind we were outstanding.

Tyler Sloane came on and added to the forwards’ driving power and I thought Ryan was tremendous. We have reached our 60 points target and now need to push on to consolidate a high-placed finish in the league and hopefully we can enjoy the remaining matches”

We go to Macclesfield next week and look to get another ‘double’. Travelling support makes so much difference to the side and a good turnout on Saturday will be much appreciated by the team.

Report by John Le Page, picture by Mike Craig

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