Liverpool St Helens U15 0 Preston Grasshoppers U15 30*
Blacksticks Blue Lancashire Cup, first round match.
With the early KO at 10:15 requiring some rushed departures for a Sunday morning, it was good that a fully operational breakfast café greeted the Hoppers as they arrived at Liverpool St Helens (LSH). Good for the parents at least, and several compliments were heard about the bacon butties! The weather had turned colder, and a lull between the strong rain showers of the week end gave near ideal conditions for the match. The large first team pitch also would suit the Hoppers’ open rugby style.
Hoppers kicked off and a powerful run back by LSH showed that they were a strong and committed outfit. From the first scrum, though, Hoppers went ahead with a brilliant No8 pick up and drive down the left hand blind side by Duggie, who was just too powerful and quick for the LSH backs who tried to cover. Conversion missed 5-0.
LSH came back strongly and put us under pressure with a cleaver kick through to our left: Duggie showed that he is also strong in defence and covered back to drop on the kick, and then make ground before setting up a ruck. From the ruck and after a powerful break from Lewis, Hoppers were unlucky not to go the length of the pitch, with just a delayed pass enabling the stretched LSH defence to hold out. Hoppers, though, were now getting into their stride and following good hassling from Tom N at scrum half, we recovered possession to spin the ball through the backs, with Harvey getting close to their line. Hoppers’ second try came soon after when Harvey covered a LSH kick- through brilliantly, quickly back on his feet then running back dangerously on the left wing. When he was finally stopped, the forwards won quick ball and then the ball was moved right through the backs, before Tom W timed a great pass to Jamie on the right wing. Jamie then outpaced the defence to score under the posts, 12-0 conversion made by Tom N.
LSH were by no means beaten at this stage, and had several dangerous attacks with their back row forwards and outside backs looking strong. But for a great cover tackle by Jamie on the wing, they would have closed the score and put pressure on Hoppers. Hoppers had to strongly defend the LSH attacks, with notable tackles from Callum and Harvey, but they were also were looking dangerous when they had possession in the backs. Great moves in the backs just failed to improve the score on several occasions with a combination of great cover by LSH and a few spilled balls at key moments. The strength, timing and pace of the three-quarters, though, was really impressive and it seemed only a matter of time before it would all come together for another score.
Unluckily for them, this came shortly after a key LSH injury and a break in play. From the subsequent lineout Hoppers span the ball into mid field where Nathan came up from Full Back to break he defensive line, before putting Harvey away on the left wing. Harvey cut in to nearly score under the posts but was stopped by a super tackle – Hoppers recycled the ball quickly and moved the ball to the right via Will M for Tom W to score. 17-0 conversion missed.
The forwards had an excellent day for Hoppers, and as well as hooking and scrummaging well, Alex and Dunny at Prop were ‘wrecking balls’ throughout the match, particularly when they had their hands on the ball. Alex returned the ball from their kick off and a period of play saw Duggie, Adam M and the rest of the forwards get involved with strong, direct runs, put us on the front foot on nearly all occasions: the backs must relish playing behind such a strong unit. This period ended with Dunny crashing over from close in to make the score at half time 22-0, conversion missed.
The second half was started by LSH and the pattern continued, with Hoppers dominating in both the forwards and backs. Adam M had a storming match at lock, and showed great mobility for a tight forward – fielding the kick off on several occasions and covering punts by LSH (or was he having a quick rest in the backs?). Such a run from Adam M put Tom W away near our 10m line, and he showed brilliant pace and balanced running on the right flank to cut through the LSH backline and then go the length of the opposition half to score under the posts for his second try, 29-0 conversion made by Tom N.
To their credit the LSH lads did not give up and kept battling away. They were unfortunate to not score as they were clear over the line, but ‘bounced’ the touch down, a lesson to always secure the ball as a priority, even when scoring. Also great credit to Dunnie who did not give the try up, but chased a ‘lost cause’ to put the LSH player under pressure as he attempted to score. This unfortunate miss seemed to unsettle LSH and led to a final score line that probably did not accurately reflect the comparative strengths of the teams.
Hoppers added to their score soon after with another amazing No8 pick up and run in from distance from Duggie down the right hand side, to make the score 36-0. Conversion make by Ethan. Ethan had a really strong game at stand-off and after a jinking run from him and good work from Callum, Tom W scored again for his hat-trick to make the score 43-0, kick made by Ethan. According to the competition rules, the game was now over and a training game was initiated to finish the session – Hoppers using all of their squad.
The changes temporarily disrupted the flow of Hoppers’ game and, to their credit, LSH kept tying right to the end and were rewarded with a score after strong attacking in their backs led to gaps opening up, and our line being breeched for the first time. Conversion missed. Hoppers soon recovered their shape and Adam M continued to have a great game, with a period of attacking pressure from Hoppers seeing good attempts from Lewis, Jamie and Nathan being repelled by strong LSH tackles. Eventually, though, Hopers finished off with a try after a period of great pressure and territorial advantage with Harvey topping a great game on the left wing by breaking the line and feeding Nathan who crashed over to score. Conversion made by Ethan.
A very convincing performance by Hoppers in their first cup outing of the year against a good LSH side. LSH were very competitive up until half-time, but could not really cope with the power of the Hoppers’ forwards and the pace of the backs and fell away a little in the second period. They should, though, be very competitive in the league and it is possible that we could meet again in the latter stages of the Cup.