Stourbridge 52 – 12 Preston Grasshoppers
Hoppers made the long trip to Stourbridge with a side that, true to Arnie’s promise last week, contained several changes as he begins to restructure the squad for the future.
Ewan Naylor started at five and there was a welcome return for Tyler Sloane and Conor Trueman on the bench.There were positional changes too with the versatile Ben Dorrington at seven this week and, in the absence of a still recovering Matt Lamprey, Ally Murray began at eight.
The weather was not unpleasant. It was very cold but with only a stiff breeze blowing down the pitch and bright sunshine it was a good day to be out.
Unless of course you end up on the wrong side of a real hammering…..
With a total of eight tries, Stourbridge were able to cruise to a five-point win having gained the bonus point before the half-time whistle was blown.
Hoppers’ tale of woe started with only four minutes on the clock when, after their hosts had kicked off and penned them in their own half, a simple passing move to the left wing by Stourbridge found their number eleven inside the Hoppers’ 10m line with not a soul between himself and the try line.
Chris Taylor spotted the danger and whilst the winger had a head start, he was easily capable of catching him and was doing so when he suddenly pulled up clutching his leg and took no further part in the match whilst Stourbridge’s Rundle was able to trot over the line under the posts for the first try which was easily converted by number twelve, Wilson.
Arnie had said only a couple of weeks ago, ‘You have to make your own luck when you are in this position’ but luck, if it exists, was not on the visitors’ side.
With a strengthening wind and the sun disappearing behind the gathering clouds, conditions conspired to foil the few attempts Hoppers had to gain any advantage.
Playing against the wind, clearance kicks hung in the air. Lineouts were lost and, try as they might, Hoppers struggled to get out of their own half for much of the first period.
Oddly enough though, they were not playing badly. In the warm-up the team had been going through some fast handling moves no doubt instigated by newly appointed backs coach, Steve Kerry and these reflected in the way they were passing the ball in the match. But with their hosts continually attacking back and forth across their 22, Hoppers were frustrated in their efforts to gain territory.
There were flashes of hope when breaks by Jacob Browne and Sam Stott amongst others, managed to inch the play away from the Hoppers’ red zone. But, in the pattern of play this season, penalties and knocks-on thwarted the moves and handed possession to the opposition.
They held out until the twenty-sixth minute when, after almost thirty phases across the Hoppers 5m line, Stourbridge were awarded a penalty from a Hoppers’ offside.
They took a quick tap and scrum-half Morris darted over. With the conversion, this time by fly-half Scott, Stourbridge moved on to a fourteen point lead and with over ten minutes of the half to play, they were looking to extend their dominance.
Their supporters did not have to wait long.
Stourbridge had a scrum on half way and began a running move which provided a chance to chip forward that found touch on the Hoppers’ 5m line. The lineout was fumbled but won by the visitors only for the ball to be stolen and shipped out to the wing where number fourteen, Trinham, scored short of the corner flag. In the stiff wind the kick struggled towards the posts and dropped short.
From the restart Stourbridge battled their way to the half way line and then broke out with Trinham adding to his tally as he swept through the defence to score the bonus point try on the stoke of half time.
With the Hoppers’ staff and bench already on their way to the sheds, fly half Scott slotted the conversion and at the break the score was 26 – 0.
There could be no argument that Stourbridge had been the dominant side throughout the first period and that Hoppers had struggled to get out of their own half for the majority of the first period.
The injury to Taylor was an early blow but with their hosts able to break the defence almost at will this match was already looking like a loss to nil for Hoppers.
However, they regrouped and having kicked off the second half Hoppers found themselves with a lineout on half way. Ben Dorrington broke his way inside the Stourbridge 10m line and passed to Browne who continued the move until he was fouled.
A quick tap began a series of swift passing moves with Jordan Dorrington feeding Will Davidson who, having made ground, presented the ball to the supporting Dorrington who deftly shipped it out the Tyler Spence on the wing to score in the corner.
The conversion by Jake Squirrell struggled to get to the posts but Hoppers had points on the board.
Celebrations were however cut short when only six minutes later, with Stourbridge back inside the Hoppers’ red zone a scrum in front of the posts enabled their hooker, Lea to cross the whitewash for their fifth try. Scott slotted the conversion and the home side eased their lead to twenty-eight points.
Hoppers were once again stricken with more bad fortune when Ollie Trippier, who had replaced Taylor as hooker, was helped off the field and the game continued with uncontested scrums.
But they continued to fight for possession. With Stourbridge pressing inside the Hoppers’ 22 they lost the ball and a clearing kick from Joe Prior took play to their 5m line. The ball was secured and moved out to the wing where it was taken at speed by Stott to score in the corner.
This time Squirrell conquered the wind and from what looked like an almost impossible position wide on the wing, he stroked the ball through the uprights.
This was encouraging, and with a quarter of the game left, a losing bonus point was not a pipe dream.
Stourbridge however had other plans. Two tries by winger Rundle put the match out of sight. The first was the result of a quick pass out from a scrum on the Hoppers 10m line and the second, an interception which saw him racing the length of the pitch from inside his own 22 to cross under the posts.
Understandably, Hoppers were a beaten side by this point and a further try was not a surprise when, as the moon rose over the clubhouse, replacement Morgan popped over under the posts and the conversion from in front sealed the victory at 52 – 12.
Arnie was honest as ever,
‘The injury to Chris so early in the game was a huge blow. Without it he would probably have made the tackle and stopped their first try.
I thought we played well for the first thirty minutes. Yes, we gifted a couple of tries but at 14-0 the game was still there.
They are a decent side with a big, physical scrum. They turned us over, capitalized on our mistakes and played the conditions well. Whilst we were handling the ball well early on we were doubling up on errors. In the last ten minutes we folded but the team was still trying.
This was an experiment to some extent and I saw the lads responding. We are ready for the fight and whilst retaining our place in this league is mathematically possible, it is unlikely, so we are building towards next season and a strong team for the future.’
Next week is a home fixture against Hinckley who sit solidly in fourth position in the league. Every game is going to be tough from now on in and support is everything for the team so get down and give them all the help you can.
Report by John Le Page, picture by Mike Craig