Under 16s overcome Blackburn

Date: 28 January 2016

Hoppers U16s 30*  Blackburn U16s 0
Blacksticks Blue Lancashire Cup 7th Round.
24th January 2016.

Hoppers were at home to Blackburn in the final pool round, having almost certainly qualified but needing to win to be certain of their automatic place and potentially to finish second in the table. After the very poor weather in recent weeks the conditions were not too bad, but the pitch was extremely heavy. We had a full squad available, a change from the recent long injury list.

Hoppers kicked off through Kieran, and Blackburn showed their intent driving the ball in through the forwards and clearing their lines. Blackburn have a large pack and particularly in the early stages were going to be a handful up front. In the initial period, where we were pinged for several penalties, Blackburn had best of the territory and possession – however, very strong defence from Hoppers, particularly the backs, meant that they never really threatened our line.

The conditions underfoot made our expansive style difficult to implement, and at times the lads looked like they were running on sand! The ball was also very slippy and both side spilled possession when they had dangerous attacks. Kieran, Harvey and Nathan all had good runs after good work spreading the ball wide. We nearly opened the score when Charlie moved the ball quickly to our left and Nathan had a strong run, feeding Duggie who was just pushed into touch. At this stage we had not got fully into our stride and were not building the pressure we needed through giving away penalties, sloppy breakdowns, difficult handling and the heavy pitch. Blackburn were playing well and making us defend hard, making the most of their strong pack.

It was a matter of time, though, as we began to win more possession and worked through some phases: eventually we opened the score with great skill by the backs. We cleared out strongly at a ruck after another powerful run from Nathan, and Henry drove in close to the breakdown. This held the defence and provided quick ball for Kieran who showed great vision and put in a wonderful kick to our right from half way, behind their defensive line. Tom W outpaced the cover and chipped the ball over the try line before following up to touch down. 5-0, kick missed.

Blackburn came back strongly with a crafty short kick off giving them possession and then territory. They were still attacking hard in the backs off good ball, but our tackling and harassing was too strong for them to make any impression. We were now starting to look too strong for their defence and despite the conditions we were starting to offload in tackles and make clean breaks. Kieran, Duggie and Will all combined with great handing to move the ball up the field and get continued possession and territory – Alex adding a strong forward drive as we started to match their pack.

Following an injury stoppage and a penalty to us, we nearly added another try. Kieran fed Duggie who was stopped short and we drove near the line: again the conditions worked against us as we spilled the ball as we built the pressure on the line. Both sides at this stage were playing and defending well, and having periods of territory and possession – it always looked, though, that we would keep them out, whist we looked dangerous in all of our attacks.

We added to the score following a powerful run from Duggie, breaking multiple tackles and setting up good field possession. We moved the ball to our right and Ryan showed excellent pace to break through the middle as his opposite number overcommitted and enabled him to break straight down the pitch and power over from 20m. 10-0, kick missed. We now exerted more and more pressure and were combining well both in the backs and forwards, using driving mauls, quick rucks and with barnstorming runs from Duggie as he did his ‘one man army’ bit – spurred on by a smack in the nose (responding in the right way!) They also didn’t seem to realise that kicking to Kieran at full back was a bad tactic!

A classic play, following a penalty kick to the corner, line out drive and fast ball along the backs to the wing with the try cruelly denied by a forward pass call: eventually we did score again through Nathan to top an excellent personal performance in the first half from him, looking dangerous and beating people at will from his wing position. Kieran had put in a strong clearing kick to half way, brilliantly fielded by their full back on the full, only for him to put a weak kick back to Kieran. Kieran then ran it back hard up the centre of the pitch before feeding Ryan and then he in turn put Nathan into space – he was just too fast and powerful as he sped down the left wing about 40m to score near their posts. Kick missed 15-0. The half ended with another try, this time from Will who got the ball on their 22 and shocked them with his pace for a lock as he outpaced their backs to go under to score. Kick made by Kieran, the half ended 22-0, which probably flattered us as little as the tries at the end of the half undid Blackburn’s spirited effort.

It was clear that Blackburn had put in a major effort in the first half and were likely to tire in the second half. They kicked off strongly, but we were now firing on all cylinders and drove out well from our 22. Duggie then scored an amazing solo try, beating half the Blackburn side as he powered down our right to score under the posts. 29-0 kick made by Kieran.

The floodgates had now opened, and we scored from their kick off with Duggie fielding the kick and putting Jamie into space on our right wing. He showed his power and strength to run from 50m out to score under the posts – picking out the biggest puddle he made the splash of the day! Kick made by Kieran 36-0. We now looked like we could score from every possession, and as we rotated the squad everyone made an impression. Joe made some great runs on his debut and showed super all round play. The backs were moving the ball wide despite the conditions and after several phases Ryan jinked through their defence to score his second, making the score 43-0 and the cup game ended, play continuing as a training game.

Hoppers rotated all their players for the training game but continued to dominate with 4 tries by: Nathan, after good work by Duggie, Kieran and Jake. Jake assisted by Kieran: Tom W assisted by Jake and finally Nathan (for his hat trick) assisted by Kieran. All kicks made by Kieran.

The tie was easily won in the end by Hoppers, but it was a hard-fought and entertaining match and Blackburn never gave up. Their position in the league probably does not really reflect their abilities, particularly from their performance in the first half hour. We now look forward to the knock out stage of the competition and really kicking on in our season.

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