Under 16s win in the sunshine

Date: 24 December 2015

Manchester U16s   19   Hoppers U16s   31
Blacksticks Blue Lancashire Cup 5th Round

Hoppers U16s were away from home against Manchester for the 5th round of the Cup and they were keen to get going after the disappointment of the previous round and to keep qualification to the quarter finals in their own hands. The weather could not have been more different from the round before, with bright sunshine, though there was a strong wind against Hoppers in the first half which made handling tricky. The game was played on their large first team pitch, which was in excellent condition and a refreshing change from recent pitches. In the first half though we had a strong wind against us, and a difficult low sun in our eyes.

Manchester kicked off and immediately put us under pressure with a series of strong attacks. The lack of recent match practice showed as we made a slow start and allowed them over for the first try in our right hand corner. 0-5, conversion missed. Just the start we didn’t want after the last round’s disappointment.

Hoppers showed their resilience, though, coming back to score immediately. After a great deep kick off from Kieran, we won clean ball from the resulting set scrum. Charlie presented good service to Callum who ran a flat line and with Kieran running a dummy outside run to pull the defence wide, he fed the ball inside to Harvey on a straight run. He burst the Manchester defence and powered in from 40m showing great pace to score under the posts. 7-5, conversion made by Kieran.

Manchester came back strongly, but having won possession from the kick off, were slow in releasing the ball allowing Charlie to intercept smartly, and speed down our right wing. Just as he was about to be caught, Charlie fed inside to Kieran who was backing up excellently on the inside, and he ran in to score. 14-5 conversion made by Kieran. An amazing start to the game, with three tries in the first 10 mins, with Hoppers now having the initiative.

The Hoppers pack were doing well, and as well as winning clean ball in the line out were dominating the scrum at this stage, taking two against the head in quick succession. We were having to defend well, though, particularly against their big and dangerous No8, and Jake made a great tackle to keep him from breaking through. Unfortunately, there was an injury to Lewis that ended his game, but after the delay we had several strong attacks and should really have added to our score. Poor handling at times put ourselves under pressure and gave them opportunities to attack: strong defence in the backs and good work in the forwards, particularly from Harry at the break down, kept the scores unaltered. Kieran made several try saving interventions to keep us ahead. We seemed over eager at times to force plays, and should have added to the score a number of times.

We almost scored after a great backs move, resulting in Charlie sniping around a ruck near their line, but we were just held out. Both sides were playing well, but we were plagued by penalties against us in the loose, continuingly putting us under pressure, and meaning that we lacked continuity. We missed another opportunity to pull ahead with a great move in the backs, with Kieran coming in the line at stand off and running a loop to create an overlap, but we couldn’t finish off the move. Just before half time Manchester scored again in our left hand corner to make the half time score 14-12 with the conversion made.

The second half was started by Kieran with a long kick off, and we immediately put Manchester under lots of pressure as they tried to run out the ball from their half – now playing into the strong wind. As they tried to pass the ball along their line Harvey put in a great tackle to force the ball loose, before Ryan pounced to recover the ball and drive over to score. 19-12 kick missed.

We again gave Manchester lots of possession through being pinged continually for penalties and we needed to defend well in the backs to keep them out. Notably, Jake showed great pace to catch their winger as he made a clean break, and there was tenacious defence from Kieran and Sam R near our line. Eventually, the pressure from our backs as they tried to attack was too much and they fumbled, allowing Kieran to clear our lines with a fly kick, and we nearly scored as their full back made a hash of the cover: unfortunately the bounce of the ball just meant it going into touch.

Finally, we clicked and despite immense pressure on our scrum possession, Charlie managed to ship scrappy ball to Callum. He moved the ball slickly to Ryan who straightened the attack and put Jake away on our left wing who, having rounded his winger, chipped the ball ahead and outpaced the cover to score. With the conversion kick missed, this made the score 24-12 – and some clear water between us and Manchester for the first time.

Manchester did not give up, and utilised their forwards to drive in again and again denying us possession and territory. We extended our score as again our backs put pressure on their line, and they spilled the ball in their 22, with Tom W recovering well to go over and score. Kick made well by Kieran to make the score 31-12. We now had the game won, but the final period saw Manchester put our line under great pressure, and Hoppers showed some brilliant defence near our line to keep them out again and again. Tom W and Callum did brilliantly to get across to our right hand wing to catch their winger as he tried to exploit an overlap, driving him into touch. Kieran finally cleared our lines, after good work by Will in the line out, with a brave chip from our 22 that cleared their backline, but dropped in front of their full back: a great chase forced a rare penalty for us and we cleared the kick into their half.

Eventually though, they added to their score as they went over after a period of sustained pressure and great defence from the Hoppers lads. The whistle for full time went soon after and the final score was 31-19 kick made by Manchester.

Overall a strong effort from Manchester, and an entertaining game, played in a good spirit. A better performance from us than the previous round, but there is still much more to come from the Hopper’s team performance. Hopefully, after the holiday break we will be able to have a sustained period of matches and games to get back to our usual slick play. We also anticipate that our injury list will get shorter and we can completed qualification in the top three after the final round in January. Now the lads can have a well-deserved break and a great Christmas and New Year.

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