York 5-16 Preston Grasshoppers
Hoppers started the New Year with a trip across the Pennines to York and, having had the last match before Christmas postponed due to Covid–related issues, they were eager to get back to playing after a three week lay-off during which a significant number of players had been laid low with the virus.
The weather forecasters appeared to have got it totally wrong this time as the predicted heavy rain and strong winds seemed to be only in their imagination when the teams ran out into still, bright conditions with just a wet surface to affect the play.
The match, in many ways, was a re-run of the home fixture. From their kick off, York played a fast-paced, running game and were immediately pressing the Hopper’s line.
Penetrating runs by their backs had their visitors defending all across their 22 and from the start it was obvious that hard tackling was to be the order of the day as the ball was wrestled back and forth. For much of the first half Hoppers had very little ball and when they did secure it and make good ground into their opponents’ half, it was either lost in a tackle or knocked on in the frenetic battle for possession.
York suffered an early blow when, after less than ten minutes, their number four, Fothergill, was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-down.
However, Hoppers were unable to use the advantage until a break by full back Jacob Browne, who collected the ball from a York clearance gave them some relief. His hack and chase from inside his own 10m line made a telling foray towards the York 22 where, although he was tackled into touch, his team were awarded a penalty and so it was approaching the end of the sin bin when Hoppers eventually took the lead as Alex Ward slotted the first of his three successful penalty kicks of the afternoon. 0 – 3.
Now encouraged by their narrow lead, a short but decisive period of play from the pack resulted in the second score for Hoppers, as they drove a scrum on the York 22 and gained another penalty in front of the uprights.
Ward wasted no time to add to score and with almost half an hour gone, Preston looked to be in the driving seat.
Hoppers were now showing much more confidence as the restart from York was collected by Toby Harrison on his own 22. He kicked on and with the forwards passing the ball along the line, the play moved up into the York half.
York however had other ideas. They then put up a period of constant pressure, taking them inside the Preston 22 where they gained a line-out on the 5m line. The ball was secured and, in the face of dogged defending, their number eight, Goulding crossed towards the corner flag.
The conversion was wide of the posts and at the half time whistle, the score stood at 5 – 6.
York had looked dangerous from the off. They were well organised and able to move the ball with speed in their rapid attacks.
Hoppers, as usual, defended strongly and in the face of constant pressure from their hosts, they weathered the early assaults on their line.
The fact that they led at half time was even more creditable as they had had little possession for most of the game and when they had the ball their efforts were often thwarted by a crunching tackle or a knock-on.
The second half was played at the same fast pace as the first but Preston had obviously re-organised themselves in the interval and it was they who were immediately pressurizing the try line with breaks and passing play from both forwards and backs. Within five minutes of the restart they had a penalty, twenty-five metres out. Ward tee’d up the ball only to watch it slide past the upright, his only miss of the afternoon.
Hoppers pressed on and their reward came when after a string of forwards’ pick-and-go moves inside the York Red Zone, Chris Taylor was last to emerge from the melee having scored in the corner. Ward put the missed penalty from almost in front of the posts just a couple of minutes earlier out of his mind as he made light of the more difficult kick from wide on the wing to put Preston eight points in front with half an hour to play. 5 – 13.
Then it was Hoppers’ turn for a yellow card when Declan Norrington was deemed to have tackled high but this did not stop the constant waves of attack from the visitors as they spent most of the rest of the match inside the York half.
The outcome was cemented when, despite being a man down, Hoppers were holding their hosts inside their 5m line. York managed to clear to their 10m line only to face another onslaught of attacks which resulted in a Hoppers’ scrum and then a line-out on the York 22 where they were awarded another penalty.
Ward kicked from directly in front of the posts and with no answer from their hosts, Grasshoppers finished the match 5 – 16 winners.
Arnie was very happy:
‘I’m really pleased, you always set out to get at least a bonus point and York are no push over. I thought that after the first ten minutes we were easing ourselves into the game and the work rate wasn’t quite there but I think that for the next seventy minutes our work rate and defence was outstanding.
York wanted to play. They are a good, well–drilled team. They were well organised but we nullified them a lot. They’ve got a good driving line out and they did sneak one over out of four or five attempts on our line but we stopped them each time.’
Would you say that that was more of a full team effort rather than stand out performances by certain individuals?
‘Yes, I think everyone worked really hard there but there were one or two stand outs. Rob Bramhall in the back row put in some unbelievable efforts and hits and I thought that Alex Ward controlled the game really well. I have just said to them that one of our weaknesses is controlling the game and seeing it out. Sometimes we make mistakes and put ourselves under pressure but today we played the match out.
I also said to them after the match that probably our best performance this season was against Macclesfield. In their own words, we humiliated them and since that result they have been on fire and they lost by just two points to Otley away today so we know that next week is going to be as just tough and it’s important that we don’t get carried away. It’s a big month for us with three tough matches away so we need to improve with each one and go next week. ‘
Report by John Le Page, picture by Rod Murray