Hoppers U15s 50 Eccles U15s 19
Blacksticks Blue Junior Challenge Cup Final at Southport
26th April 2015
Deja Vu, as we were in the Blacksticks Blue Lancashire Cup final at Southport, but this time it was not our usual rivals Fylde, but Eccles who had been victorious against Fylde in the semi final. Two years ago we had won on penalty drop goals to win the closest of encounters vs Fylde, only to beat them easily in 2014, scoring over 50 points. We were unsure of Eccles’s form, not having played them this year at all, but knew from past experience that they would be a big pack and be highly competitive.
Eccles kicked off on a beautifully sunny day near the coast, with the dry and large first team pitch suiting our flowing style of rugby. Hoppers were well prepared and started very strongly, moving theball well along the backs and Kieran bursting through down the middle. We forced a penalty and Kieran put in a good kick to give us territory. Hoppers kept the pressure on, being camped near the Eccles try line with only good defence from them keeping us out. The Hoppers’ forwards were winning quick ball, and the backs made dangerous breaks though Kieran and Harvey before the ball was moved wide to the right, before Harvey made space in mid field to feed Adam on the left wing who showed his newly found, amazing pace to dive into the left hand corner. 5-0 conversion missed.
Eccles kicked off and put us under pressure with their strong pack holding us up in a maul to get possession and territory. It was clear that our forwards needed to be at their best to match the Eccles pack. Our backs were also having to be on the top of their game, against a large Eccles back line, who ran some good lines in attack to get over the gain line and put us under pressure. Harvey, though, set the tone early on as he literally drove an Eccles player back 10m and took him to ground. Any thoughts that their bigger centres would run over us in mid field was well and truly dispelled. Nathan also had to put in several good tackles as Eccles attacked quickly, often started from their talented scrum half.
We quickly got back on the attack, and Jake nearly scored on the right, kicking past his opposite number but just not able to recover to score. Soon after Kieran made a break in the middle, and when stopped, we hit the ruck well and provided quick ball to our right with Callum feeding Jake, who was too strong and powerful for the cover, to score under the posts. 12-0 kick made by Kieran.
We were now well on top, and it seemed like we would run away with the game as per the 2014 final. We relaxed though, and underestimated Eccles’ resolve. They came back strongly, and scored through their backs with a simple break in mid field as we switched off. They had made several breaks before, but each time we had had cover, and our mobile forwards had managed to scramble and reset the defensive line. 12 -7 as they made the conversion and it was game on!
We put ourselves under more pressure from the kick off, but the pack took one against the head in the resulting scrum – great hooking from Sam R with strong performances as usual from Dunny and Alex at prop. Well done to the whole pack who more than held their own in all aspects of the set pieces and breakdowns. Harry kept going all day at 7, putting pressure on Eccles and doing lots of hard graft and Will and Alastair did really well in the line out – Lewis making his usual barnstorming runs to relieve pressure. There was a period where both sides played well, putting pressure on the opposition, but the defences held. Kieran was often the catalyst, breaking well with his speed and power from full back, and Ryan had the better of his opposite centre, getting away several times to set up good positions. Tom N distributed really well from Scrum Half all day.
It seemed only a matter of time before we scored, and after a dangerous attack by Jake on the right wing that was just stopped by strong Eccles defence, Jake stormed down the right wing again. This time he cut inside, and when stopped we recycled the ball quickly to the left and Will showed great skill to loop and create the overlap and Adam then brilliantly fed to ball for Nathan to speed over and score. 17-7 kick missed.
Hoppers were now rampant, with us scoring again soon after with the forwards pressuring Eccles and recovering the ball before Ryan made space with a jink in mid field to hold the cover and give Jake a small space to attack. He was just too good for the defence, and ran in his second in the right hand corner. 22-7, kick missed. We were now making all the running and playing some great rugby and Jake scored his hat trick with a move that Kieran started in our own 22, involving Jake and Will before Jake had the ball on the wing again running past the cover to make the score 29-7 at half time, conversion made by Kieran.
At half time it seemed that the contest was over, and Hoppers just had to keep playing well and not concede an early try at the start of the second half. Eccles were fired up though, and scored with some individual brilliance from their scum half. He broke the line from our kick off, and ran three quarters of the length of the pitch to score under the posts. 29-14 and Eccles were back in with a chance.
This gave some nervous moments for the large Hoppers crowd and we needed some strong defence: one more try from Eccles and they could gain the momentum – Harvey again lead the way with crunching tackles and Harry was everywhere. Controversially, Lewis was sin binned for a tackle that, at worst, was a penalty for taking an Eccles players’ legs over the horizontal. Worrying times. Hoppers now had to dig deep with 14 players and an Eccles team having some hope – and to their great credit the lads held out and eventually Kieran quickly tapped a penalty and cleared our lines into their half.
Having weathered the storm, Hoppers actually outscored Eccles in the period they were down to 14 men, starting with a wonderful try. We worked hard to get into an attacking position, and Ryan made an amazing break, and when half stopped put in a second effort to get back to his feet, make more ground and then timed a great pass on the left to put Jamie away to run in strongly to score in the corner. 36 -14 the kick made brilliantly by Kieran.
Just when we thought this was the best, we scored an even better try. Eccles nearly scored but were penalised for a double movement, one metre from our line. Kieran tapped quickly, catching the Eccles defence sleeping and make 20m on the left wing, before offloading and then Sam M was fed back inside. After a strong run Sam was felled, but as he went down he offloaded brilliantly from the floor, and kept the ball moving, eventually the ball being shifted to Will on the right wing, who shown amazing pace for a second row to arc around the right and score under the posts with a 99m try!! 43-14.
Now, with the win assured, we tried to run the ball once to often and gave away a soft try, to make the score 43-19. We had the final say though, with a super try to Kieran who finally got the try he deserved with his great performance. He cut back against the grain in midfield and then beat half the Eccles defence to score, and convert his own try making the final score 50-19.
As the only Hoppers Junior finalists in 2015, the U15 had brilliantly kept up the PGRFC record of winning at least one Cup in the Blacksticks Junior competition for the last 9 seasons. The lads deserve great credit for their resilience in beating a strong Eccles Team, particularly in raising their game to score when down to 14 players. Also all the lads recognise that it was a squad effort and all those who have played during the season also deserve great credit. Big respect to Eccles for their efforts and the great spirit in which they played, and to the ref. Also to Southport RUFC for hosting the event again and being great hosts. Onto the tour next week and some fun and a bit more relaxed rugby!