Eccles U16 34 Hoppers U16 21
Blacksticks Blue Lancashire Cup.
Sunday 4th October 2015
The first competitive match of the season for Hoppers saw them meet the runners up in last year’s final, Eccles, at their ground near Salford. Unavailability and injuries saw the Hopper’s squad depleted, having the bare 15 to field in the team: four players were injured just from their school games the previous day! It was always going to be a stern test as the strong Eccles team had given us a real competition in the 2014 final before we ran out winners, the final score not really reflecting how hard fought it was.
Hoppers kicked off and Eccles showed their intent immediately, using their large pack to drive in close to the breakdown. Hoppers defended the early exchanges well, with great defence as usual from Harvey in the centre as Eccles had plenty of clean possession. Shortly after Eccles were held up over our line, they used their forwards initially to suck in the Hoppers’ cover, before moving it to our left where they had an overlap. 5-0 Eccles, conversion missed.
Hoppers were only hanging on through some committed defence, and what ball we did have was scrappy and pressured. Notable defensive efforts from Harvey, Jake, Ethan and Jamie kept them from capitalising on their dominance in the scrums and rucks. We did have some attacking chances, with good line out work from Adam and dangerous half breaks from Ethan in the backs. Despite our resolute scrambling defence, eventually the pressure told and Eccles scored again, conversion made 12-0.
Hoppers were still having to work on very limited possession and Sam M and Lewis were having to work overtime to disrupt their possession around the breakdown: Lewis covering a spectacular run back from the Eccles full back to prevent another score and Sam punishing them when they did supply slow ball to their half backs. Nathan and Jake had half chances for breaks, but we were unable to build any pressure on them to create clear chances.
Hoppers were finally getting going, and after a move was stopped with a high tackle penalty, we kicked to the corner. Adam gathered great line out ball and Ethan sliced through the defence with his great side stepping to get over to score. Conversion made, 12-7. Unfortunately, two yellow cards were shown just as the half time whistle went, and we temporarily lost Ethan’s creative work.
The second half started in the worst possible way, when, having just got back into the game, we conceded as Eccles displayed their forward power again. 17-7, conversion missed. Hoppers had a bit more of the possession now and Sam M showed good hands on several occasions to link with the backs and we showed how dangerous the back line could be. Unfortunately, like the first half, we could not link the possession with territory to give us concerted pressure on Eccles. Particularly in the set scrum we were struggling to get clean ball, with every time on our put in Eccles wheeling clockwise to enable their strong scrum half to spoil our ball.
Despite great effort from Hoppers, with Andrew, Ollie, Harvey, Sam, Jake and others putting in great defensive tackles, the superior possession of Eccles told and they scored again. Several drives again stretched the Hoppers’ covering line, meaning they had a relatively simple job to go over to score. Conversion missed, 22-7. They scored again in a similar fashion, with the conversion well made off the post making the score 29-7. Soon after they made the score 34-7 with an unconverted try.
The game was beyond Hoppers with the time left in the game, but great credit to the lads who refused to let their heads drop, despite the unusual position of being well behind on the scoreboard. Hoppers scored soon after the kick off, putting great pressure on Eccles. We initially forced a penalty, and took a quick tap running to our left. Having stretched their cover in the breakdown, quick ball was moved to the right with Sam M offloading, Sunny-Bill style out the back of his hand to put Jamie away. For once with some space, he outpaced his wing to score. Conversion made, 34-14. Eccles were now on the back foot and, with nothing to lose, Hoppers threw the ball around, creating another score through Jake. Conversion made, 34-21.
Another 10 minutes, and with Eccles down to 14 after a second Yellow, Hoppers might have troubled them for the win, but overall Eccles deserved the winning points as they dominated up front. Disappointing to lose the opening match, but as a wise parent once said – the competition is a ‘Marathon not a sprint’ and we look forward to a rematch in the later stages of the knock-out phases next spring.