Southport U14 0 Hoppers U14 30*
Blacksticks Blue (Lancashire) Cup.
Hoppers played their final game in the pool stages knowing that, having already qualified for the knock out stages, a win would see them finish first in the Group 1 table. The weather was very cold, but there was little wind and a firm, dryish pitch giving near ideal conditions. Southport kicked off on their big first team pitch and Hoppers showed their intent by running the ball from deep after Sam W received the kick and set up well for the next phase. Quick ball from Tom at scrum half saw Kieran straighten in mid field and set Jamie into a gap – he half broke the first tackle and offloaded to Duggie in support. Duggie showed the raw power and pace that has earned him a U15 county call-up to speed 60m round the left wing and cut under the posts to score the first try. 7-0 with the conversion made by Kieran.
The early score was just what the Southport team would have wanted to avoid, but they rallied and started to play to their strengths with their strong pack. Duggie and the back row had to work hard to contain their forward drives, but stood up well to the challenge and the tight forwards had a great day, holding their own in the tight exchanges and set scrums. Dunny had an excellent game again at prop, driving his opposite number back at every tight scrum. Southport had chances early on to score and had territory and possession in our 22, and at times right on our try line. All the Hoppers team tackled strongly, and the pressure was relieved finally by a knock on from them and, following a solid scrum, Tom fed well to Kieran who cleared the kick to touch beyond our 22.
Hoppers nearly extended their lead soon after, when pressure from both the forwards and backs on Southport ball led to a mishandle in mid field, and Harry (congratulations to him on his England Independent Schools selection) kicked through. Kieran kicked on again and fed Jake who sped down the left wing, just being stopped short as he was in the act of scoring. Good pressure on the clearing kick by Sam M from the subsequent scrum, saw the weak effort go to Kieran at full back (who also showed the prowess that has given him a U15 County selection to add to his England Independent Schools selection) who ran back hard into mid field on their 22. The forwards provided quick ball that went via Callum, who distributed excellently all day, to Nathan on the wing. He finished brilliantly – showing pace and balance to dive into the right corner and score. Conversion missed, 12-0 to Hoppers.
Although Hoppers were now well on top, credit to Southport who kept trying all day and they again came back hard with their strong pack. Hopper’s defensive tackling was consistently good, but notable tackles from Jamie and Harvey in the centre, and Duggie and Kieran kept them from crossing the line, with Kieran putting in a superb penalty clearance a good 50m to relieve the lines. Back came Southport with more pressure, and they were doing particularly well around the fringes of the rucks, with Hoppers getting penalized for a number of infringements.
However another try came before half time through Kieran, following another super backs move. The forwards had weathered Southport pressure and when we finally had some ball the backs moved it quickly to the left to reach Jake on the wing. As he was nearly put into touch on our 22, he fed inside to Harvey supporting brilliantly who kept the move going over the half way line, before feeding inside to Duggie, then to Kieran who powered over to score. 19-0 after Kieran converted his own score.
Further chances to score followed with great runs from Adam M, Nathan, Duggie and Kieran but half time came with the score still 19-0. A great half of rugby pitting Southport’s strong forward play against the all round strong Hoppers, with great fluidity for our backs making the difference. Hoppers made a few squad changes to start the second half.
Hoppers kicked off through Kieran, and we added to the score almost straight away. A poor Southport kick straight down the middle was fielded at full back by Kieran who was just too powerful and ran the ball back down the right and cut in to score under the post. 26-0, conversion made. We added another soon after following a kick though – Ben made a strong run in mid field to set Kieran away, who fed Jake on the left with a long pass who showed his excellent pace to score in the corner. 31-0 conversion missed.
The game was effectively won, though the Southport forwards never gave up and there was a period of play where they competed and we were ‘pinged’ for a variety of offenses. It was going to be an ask for them to keep going under considerable pressure, and Southport noticeably tired – especially as the Hoppers replacements put on were as strong as their team mates, giving little relief. Hoppers added the next try through Jake, with his second of the day to make the score 36-0, conversion missed. The ball was moved by the backs to the right hand side and then spun left to Kieran, then to Harvey and on to Jake on the wing who outpaced the cover to score in the corner. The final try of the cup game came after good work by Adam R who, through a tricky break, put Kieran away who fed Ben in turn. He made a great run, but was stopped by an excellent tap tackle from the Southport cover, though super support from Duggie saw him get the ball and run in to score his second try. The Cup game was now ended at 43-0 with the conversion make by Kieran.
There followed a development game, as stipulated by the cup rules, with Southport and Hoppers using all their squad. There were great scores by Kieran, converted; Jake following great work by Adam R, conversion missed; Adam M with a great run in mid field, and driven over to score, conversion made; Jake, conversion missed – Alastair in particular put in some great runs. 24-0 in the development game.
A very strong performance from Hoppers to top the Blacksticks Blue Lancashire Cup Group 1. The forwards played very well against a strong Southport pack, and the backs were really slick and moved the ball around well. Thank you to Southport for their resilience in never giving up and the great spirit and attitude the lads showed – a credit to your club – and of course the hospitality on the day to warm up after the cold outside. The lads are now looking forward to the knock out stage and the draw to see who we face next.