Hoppers U16 42* Widnes U16 12
Blacksticks Blue Lancashire Cup.
After the frustrations of several cancellations, including the washout the previous week, Hoppers were back in action in the rescheduled Lancashire Cup match vs Widnes. The weather conditions were fine, especially compared to last week, and it was clear from the off that on the wide first team pitch, Hoppers were going to move the ball around and try to play some entertaining rugby.
The initial stages of the match were marred by an injury to Nathan, who had to leave the pitch injured with a blow to the nose. We seem to be suffering from a spate of injuries in the squad at the moment, and with a somewhat depleted squad to start with, we went into the last quarter of the match with three players going off in total, and 14 players on the pitch having run out of subs.
Hoppers, though, played really well throughout the match, and started very strongly with sweeping moves usually initiated by Charlie at Scrum Half with fast distribution and strong runs. We often attacked from wide out, particularly after good runs by Tom at centre. We scored the first try from Jamie following a brilliant break by Ryan on the left wing, and playing through the phases the ball moved left to Harvey in the centre. He straightened the play, holding the Widnes defence to enable an excellently timed pass to Jamie who dived into the right corner. 5-0 conversion, missed from wide out.
The Hoppers’ forwards were matching the backs and putting on a fine display: they were dominant in all aspects of play, particularly the rucking to provide quick ball – notable was their mobility around the field and the pace of the likes of Will and Adam. Darryn debuting for his first game at Hoppers did particularly well, displaying good handling skills and strong running. The backs were moving the ball from wing to wing in attacks, and both Ryan and Jamie saw a lot of the ball in the first half, each time making breaks and setting up dangerous positions. Widnes were struggling to match Hoppers at this stage, and often were forced to kick away possession – this was not a great tactic with Jake at full back.
Hoppers were, perhaps, guilty of trying to score off every phase at this stage, and at times spilled possession with over-optimistic offloads rather than building pressure. They scored next, though, with a great team try putting Ryan over to score. Having moved the ball to our right via Callum at stand-off, and after moves between Tom and Jake, Jamie was put away on the right wing. He beat several players and ran into their half, nearly being forced into touch. Great support saw a run from Tom into their 22, before he was tackled. Recycing the ball quickly, we moved it left with a straight, powerful break by Lewis before he put in a long, looping pass to Ryan on the left wing. From a standing start he accelerated and jinked his way over in the corner. 10-0 conversion missed.
Hoppers were now dominating and running the ball on every occasion. We did, on occasion, put ourselves under pressure and Widnes had a period of possession and territory. Our defence was up to it though and with great scrambling defence we kept them out, and each time they looked like building pressure we relieved it through a good scrum, line out or powerful mid field defence from the likes of Harvey and Tom and Jamie. Widnes were also playing their part in a very entertaining game and defending resolutely at this stage.
Notable was a great covering tackle from their full back after Jamie made yet another break down the right: he stopped a certain score by a brave, last ditch tackle of Jamie in full flight. A clearing kick by them relieved the Hoppers pressure.
It was inevitable, though, that hoppers would add to the score before half time, and this came about from yet another break by Jamie on the right, being put away by Jake in from full back. With pressure on the Widnes defence they conceded a 5m scrum and, as was the case all day in the tight scrum, Ollie hooked quick ball helped by a strong front row. Charlie fed quick and Harvey ran straight off Callum in the centre to break free and dive over to score. 17-0 kick made by Jake.
Hoppers were in control, but when they had some possession and territory, Widnes still looked dangerous, and certainly were not giving up. Ryan, though, was in a different class on his wing, and following work by Harvey and Tom he was fed on his left wing again and showed amazing acceleration and line of running to cut in and leave the Widnes defence tackling shadows. He scored under the posts, and with the kick made, half time saw the score 24-0 to Hoppers.
Hoppers received the ball to start the second half and Widnes started the half well, and a dangerous kick through into our dead ball area had to be cleared by Lewis, who showed great awareness in covering. It wasn’t long, though, before Hoppers extended the lead with a superbly worked try from 60m out. Charlie continued to trouble the Widnes defence from scrum half and broke down the blind side of a set scrum inside our half, with power and pace, before flicking the ball inside to Jamie. He sped down our right wing before being tacked on their 22 and offloading skilfully to Lewis who had backed up really well. He ran in to score under the posts. 31-0, conversion made by Jake.
A powerful run by Darryn from their kick off led to more pressure on Widnes and more good runs from Tom and Adam. Soon after, Will showed phenomenal pace for a second row to out run the Widnes backs and score under the posts. 38-0 with the conversion made by Jake.
Unfortunately, both Ryan and Alastair had to leave the pitch, and we were down to 14 men for the last quarter of the game. Widnes rallied well, and with some spirited back play and powerful forward drives, Widnes went over to score. 38-5 conversion missed. Inevitably, Widnes now had a little more space to attack and saw more of the possession. They nearly added to the score following a clever line out move ‘straight off the training ground’ that put their player away down the narrow side of the line out, only to be foiled by good cover tackling from Hoppers. Our forwards slowly raised their game to compensate and Ollie, Darryn and Sam R were all working overtime to keep us competitive. Despite this, Widnes scored again after we kicked away possession and ran out of cover as they returned the ball back strongly to score. Conversion made, 38-12.
Despite the strong recovery from Widnes, it never looked likely that they would get back into the game, though they were now seeing the majority of possession and territory. Again, Hoppers defended like it was 0-0 and particularly Harvey who all day had chopped down his opposite number with strong tackles, often driving him backwards. Charlie, who had given Widnes problems all day in attack, now was working overtime in defence, with three tackles in one phase to keep Widnes at bay and winning a penalty for the Widnes player holding on to the ball – he was literally being dragged along the pitch by Charlie.
The forwards were also now keeping the ball closer in and making driving runs near the breakdown: ironically this tied in the Widnes defence and led to a number of dangerous attacks from Tom and the rest of the backs: including an outrageous pass from Harvey on our left wing to put Jake and then Adam away. Hoppers were playing a sensible game, though, at key times and Callum pinned them into the corner from a clever chip kick. Winning the line out we made ground with a driving maul, and then drove the ball in near the line, until Alex eventually powered over from close in. 42*-12, conversion made.
A very entertaining game of rugby, played in great spirit by both sides and Widnes never gave up, even when Hoppers were beginning to pull away at the start of the second half. Hopefully, the injury list will start to subside a little and we can look forward to the next round of the Cup, away at Warrington.