U15s too strong for Southport

Date: 18 November 2014

Southport U15  0  Hoppers U15  30*
Blacksticks Blue Lancashire Cup Third Round.
16th November 2014

The weather continued to be unseasonably mild as Hoppers travelled to West Lancashire for the third round of the Blacksticks Blue Cup.  Conditions were ideal again on their first team pitch, and this brought back memories of the final against Fylde two years ago that was won with penalty drop outs! Everyone hoped that the match today would not be so nerve racking.

Southport kicked off and Jack took the ball well, and ran back strongly. The early exchanges were tight, and the Hoppers’ backs showed how strong their defence has become, especially Harvey who again physically dominated, despite giving away considerable size to the opposition: first tackle he executed a technically great, and perfectly timed tackle to stop Southport’s first attack.

Southport put considerable pressure on Hoppers in the first quarter, having good field position for at least the first 10 minutes. Hoppers did not help themselves by overplaying somewhat, trying to force things to happen rather than build pressure. This resulted in a number of spilled balls, giving away possession. The forwards, as with the last two outings, more than held their own against a bigger pack, winning quick ball at the breakdown, and competing well in the set pieces.

Eventually, Kieran cleared the pressure with a good kick and, after winning the line out, the backs moved the ball to Nathan on the left wing, who took the play into the opposition half. Excellent defence by Duggie to halt a Southport backs move, led to us turning over the ball and spinning it to Jamie who was just stopped from getting over to score by solid Southport defence. The Hoppers pressure was starting to build, but was hampered by some laboured distribution. Finally, it all came together and Hoppers scored their first try. Pressure in their 22 from Lewis after their scrum, led to a poor clearing kick that was fielded by Nathan who ran back powerfully. The forwards provided quick ball, and Jake took us back into their 22, with Jamie providing good support to secure possession at the ruck. With the Southport defence stretched, Duggie took a short pass in mid field to run straight and break tackles to power over under the posts conversion made by Kieran.

Southport kicked off and Hoppers again had to work hard to get back into the attack. Several powerful drives by Duggie led to several quick phases, and a dangerous run on the left wing by Jamie, who was stopped – with him just going into touch. Southport continued to look dangerous as they built territorial position, but the Hoppers’ defence stood firm: notably with great work from Lewis who met the powerful Southport forwards head on. Our mistakes and mishandling, though, were working against us building any pressure and meant that the score remained close. This was not helped when there was a yellow card, temporarily reducing us to 14 after a high tackle.

This loss of a player seemed to focus Hoppers, though, and they defended energetically, with fine tackles from Jack on the blind side and Harvey in the backs. The forwards deserve a particular mention in their effort all day to quickly get to the breakdown and provide good, fast ball. Adam M, Sam W, and Will all showed exception mobility, and Alex and Jack added the power in the tight. Alex was also terrier like at the breakdown and delivered several turnovers. We should probably have added to the score, first through Ryan, who made a super break in mid field and would have gone over to score if he had not slipped, then Jamie who was just denied by good defence. Half time came with a score line that did not really reflect the Hoppers dominance.

The second half was kicked off by Kieran and Southport continued to try to get some momentum, stopped again initially as Harvey physically drove the first attack into touch. Hoppers’ forwards continued to dominate at the breakdown, but had not yet got into their stride despite strong runs from Duggie and Kieran. Eventually, Hoppers scored their second try: after an excellent defensive tackle from Jamie, Duggie drove down the middle and, having sucked in the defensive cover and created space, we moved the ball quickly to the right to Nathan who scorched over to score, conversion just missed from wide out.

The sheer effort from Southport to keep pace with Hoppers in the first half now took its toll, and their forwards visibly tired. Again this week as Hoppers used the full squad, the players they brought on added to the team and made it doubly difficult for the opposition. Henry kept the scrum solid, and Sam M and Alastair continued to provide the mobility and graft that saw Hoppers completely dominate the final third of the game.

Following good work by Alex to get some ‘go forward’  Kieran put in a brilliant short chip over the defence, and then ran through to field the ball. He broke to their 22 and, when tackled, offloaded out of the back of his hand to Ryan, who after jinking inside to hold up the cover, then backed his acceleration to run to the right corner outflanking the cover to score, conversion missed. From the kick off, after we initially dallied, Jack made an all important drive the get over the gain line, and put the Southport forwards on the back foot, and provide quick ball as Alastair cleared out. The ball was then fed into mid field, Duggie breaking the line before feeding Jake, who had simply too much power and pace on the left wing, arching round to score under the posts, kick made by Kieran.

Duggie was now running riot, and following breaks from him and Jake that led to a dangerous scrum on their line, Adam R scored another classic scrum half ‘snipe’ around the blind side on the left to increase the Hoppers lead, followed by a brilliant conversion from wide out by Kieran. The forwards continued to dominate in all areas and were disrupting Southport’s set plays and providing lots of ball for the backs. Following solid ball won from a scum in the centre of the pitch, Kieran ran a set move, with a cross field kick to the right for Ethan on the wing to brilliantly collect after one bounce, sidestepping inside the cover to score. Great planning and execution, conversion made by Kieran.

Southport kept on trying and exerted some pressure and territory, but their effort was diffused by a great clearing kick of 40m from Kieran. Following a good backs move in our half, Duggie rounded off a great personal performance by powering 60m through a tired defence to score, conversion made by Kieran to signal the end of the match.

A good third win in the Lancashire Cup, against a spirited Southport team who, as with other sides recently, competed initially but could not keep this up for the full match. Thanks to Southport for their hospitality and it was good to catch up with old friends. Credit also to the Ref, Mr. Davies for an excellent performance, firm, fair and consistent which is exactly what you need! Overall, a good performance from Hoppers, with some aspects that could be improved around respecting possession in contact and building up pressure rather than try to force things on the first phase.

As usual, all the lads in the squad contributed and worked well for the team – well done.

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