Hoppers’ high rollers pull 21 with the last hand.
Inspired by Friday’s ITV episode of ‘The Tipping Point’, this week’s match report will take a casino theme.
With the season entering the final quarter Hoppers find themselves locked in a tight battle for promotion to the promised land of the Cotton Traders Premiership. With Crewe level on points, Hoppers 2.5s could not afford to slip up as they travelled to the bright lights of Macclesfield.
On paper this would have appeared to have been a relatively straight forward game for Hoppers with Macclesfield currently languishing around the relegation zone. However as we seem to be finding out more and more there’s no easy games in this league.
Its safe to say that the journey down was pretty uninspiring, much of the landscape being battered by the delightful weather we’ve had over the recent months. With the heated leather seats at full tilt and visibility restricted to 20m, I for one, was not relishing the prospect of what was not likely going to be a free flowing high octane game. Fortunately I had Copper sat next to me who was all too happy to offer some firm reassurance that it couldn’t be as bad as the Broughton Park game.
This week team strategist and captain cool hand Tom decided to shuffle the deck in the backs. Wardy moved to 10, Taylor B at 9, a new centre pairing of Taylor J and Howarth with Peterson, Proccy and Taylorson covering the back three (forwards remained largely unchanged, I know they get upset when I don’t mention them). Would this bold move pay off….
Well initially it looked like a disaster! Macclesfield certainly not befitting of their position in the league took the game to Hoppers from the off. Hoppers were struggling to get any sort of foot hold in the game. The Macclesfield backrow were disrupting the breakdown and their fly half was pinning us back with an effective kicking game. After 15 minutes a charged down kick deep in the Hoppers 22 led to Macclesfield taking the lead. Within 5 minutes Macc doubled their lead, a slick move through the Macclesfield backs was finished off with a nice chip and chase. Hoppers now 12-0 down in conditions that were dramatically deteriorating. This season Hoppers have rarely, if at all, found themselves 12-0 down after 20 minutes and the following 60 minutes was going to be a real test of character and determination if we were to rescue any sort of result from a very dogged and determined Macc side. Unfortunately having not warmed up, Proccy pulled his hamstring during the ensuing chase and had to retire to the showers making way for Ben Lock. Ben was immediately called in to action having to make two good covering tackles to prevent the lively Macc backs from extending their lead.
With backs to the wall it was time to up the ante and once again the experienced Hoppers pack did not disappoint. Using the trusty set piece, Hoppers were able to put together some good phases of play. It was clear from the beginning the Macc scrum was under pressure and it was now down to Hoppers to take advantage of that. With 10 minutes left of the first half Hoppers started to make inroads into the Macc 22 for the first time. The driving maul was causing all sorts of problems for the home defence. From a resulting penalty, Taylor B took a quick tap and picked out his brother with a miss pass that sent Taylor J crashing through the Macc defence and over the line for his first try in a Hoppers shirt (and thus sparing himself a naked lap at the end of the season). Peterson converted and Hoppers were back in the game.
It was now the visitors who were in the ascendency and some intelligent kicking from Dennis the Menace aka Wardy and Taylor set up a platform for the forwards to do what they do best. With Steely calling the shots at the line out, dead eye Sands was doing a great job of hitting his jumpers. With the last play of the half Hoppers set up and executed the perfect driving maul. Copper the last man up from the crowd of bodies. Unfortunately due to the 25 degree slope of the Macc posts the conversion went narrowly wide. 12-12 at half time.
Hoppers were feeling pretty buoyed at half time and could probably count themselves lucky to be going in level. The message was clear, build on the performance and keep it simple. By this point it was kind of difficult to tell who was who.
The second half began as the first half ended with Hoppers controlling the set piece and making plenty of ground from the breakdown. Notable performances coming from Morton and Dicky Leemers, both making good yards with strong carries. Hoppers were beginning to up the tempo and it was time for the backs to get involved making some good yards down the flanks with a couple of breaks. Macc refused to lie down, each time repelling any break with quick turnover ball before returning the ball back down the pitch for hoppers to start all over again. With 20 minutes to go another driving maul was held up over the line, from the resulting scrum hoppers turned the screw on the Macc pack and pushed over from the 5. Dicky Leeming using his silky football skills to guide the ball before picking up to crash over from short range. The conversion agonisingly bounced back off the upright. 17-12.
Macc weren’t done yet and each time they had the ball in hand the back 3 looked dangerous. After committing too many men to the breakdown, Hoppers were left exposed out wide and a missed tackle led to a break from which Macc scored a fine breakaway try. This time it was Macc’s turn to be thwarted by the 25 degree leaning posts, the conversion coming back off the post. 17-17 with 7 minutes left. Could Hoppers hold their nerve with a double or nothing final period or were they going to return home broke.
With nerves jangling, Hoppers kept it tight battering the fringes of the Macc defence. Each time we got within sight of the Macc line the ball was coughed up and punted back down the field. With only seconds left on the clock Macc conceded a penalty in the Hoppers 22. With two plays left could Hoppers rescue the four much needed points from this game? Wardy found touch with a good kick to the Macc 10. Over to Steely who was now only recognisable by his lips and eyeballs. The line out was GOOD! Could it be, hearts were in mouths as the massive talismanic pack of Hoppers ground to life with one last driving maul. Like a scene from the Superbowl’s greatest plays, Hoppers went past the 10! Past the 15! Into the 22! The maul by now had been replaced by several pick and drives. Fraught with angst one of the Macc forwards decided it was too much and made the cardinal sin of entering from the side. The whistle blew…. It was a penalty! Taylor thinking on his feet took a quick tap before lining up the drop goal… Fortunately this only happened in my head. Captain Tom calmly strode up electing to the referee, who had a fine game by the way in positively awful conditions, that he was going to take the kick.
Calmness personified, captain cool b*llocks gently stroked the ball with his usual finesse, watching it sail through the posts. Johnny letting out a delightful yelp as he realised the ball had sneaked over the posts. And that was it. Hoppers had won it with the last kick of the game. Commiserations to Macc who deserved to come away with something from what had been a very good game in very dire conditions
The final mention goes to Mollinga, who like all great visionaries was initially scorned and abused by the people, even conceding D*ck of the Day for rewarding himself with a delightful looking hot chocolate topped with whipped cream, marshmallows and chocolate sprinkles. Shortly after Marcus took the DoD accolade, the Macc servery was inundated with requests for said hot chocolate. You were right after all Marcus, it was delicious. Man of the Match went to Dicky Leeming for the second week in a row. Up next – Burnage at home next Saturday!
Reporting from scrum half, Ben Taylor.