Fylde 2nd XV 17 Hoppers 2nd XV 47
Hoppers made it a magnificent seven after overpowering Fylde Hawks in their Friday night shoot out at the Woodlands. The win sees Preston return to the top of the Bateman Premier League for twenty four hours at least and Young’s men will have half an eye on today’s fixtures involving rivals Sedgley Park and Caldy. Barring a catastrophic collapse in form Hoppers are all but assured to qualify for Conference A when they can refocus their efforts on retaining their title.
Friday night’s contest was fiercely contested for the first hour but once the Fylde forwards ran out of steam the Preston pack overwhelmed their hosts. The Hawks pack eventually conceding a penalty try and finishing the game unable to contest the scrum. Fylde to their credit contributed to an entertaining fixture played on an unseasonably calm and mild evening on the Lytham coast. The hosts were keen to spread the ball wide at every opportunity with half-backs Aikman and Simmons impressively marshalling the Hawks’ dangerous centre pairing of Russell and Gough. Hawks coach Adam Jackson has clearly done a good job since taking over in the Summer as his team have improved markedly since last season. The trouble for Fylde being that on last night’s showing, so have Hoppers.
Hoppers scored first, spending the first seven minutes camped on the Fylde five metre line. A succession of scrums and Hoppers were knocking on the door until Kiwi centre Cameron Berry smashed it down for the game’s first try, which Purnell converted. However some lax defence and good handling by those Fylde backs saw Gough score an unconverted try in the left hand corner.
The Hoppers pack re-established their foothold in the game and they were beginning to dominate both possession and territory, the result being a penalty for Purnell which saw Preston lead 10-5. Purnell, who interchanged between scrum half and stand-off throughout enjoyed a fine game and he added a second penalty shortly after. The hosts struck back just before half time as their athletic back line got them deep into Preston territory, the result being a try from a quick penalty that was smartly taken by the impressive Aikman. Preston led 13-10 at half time and the healthy crowd would have been forgiven for thinking that the match was going to go right to the wire.
The second half got underway but started badly for the hosts as their player-coach Jackson saw yellow for a high tackle. This enabled the Preston pack to maintain their dominance and when Fylde collapsed a scrum on their own line, the referee had no option but to award a penalty try. The match then turned on the next ten minutes of play as some average defence by Young’s men allowed Fylde to cross for converted try. Preston led 20-17 and there were some anxious looks on the Hoppers bench as the score seemed to invigorate the Hawks.
Preston to their credit dug deep and scored an outstanding try straight from the kick off. Powerful play by man of the match Napier led to Harry Reddick scoring a try which was again converted by Purnell. The Fylde forwards started to tire and the battering they’d received a scrum time had begun to take it’s toll. Special mention should go to the Hoppers front row of Peterson, Holmes & Morton who gave their Hawks counterparts a torrid time, taking several balls against the head.
Some magic play by Purnell, culminating in a brilliant off-load saw Ollie Yates continue his fine run of scoring with a try in the left hand corner. The Hoppers pack were totally dominant, the result being that the Hawks back division were starved of ball that was either quick or decent. Purnell added a long penalty to see the lead stretch to 35-17, and with thirteen minutes left the points were probably secured.
Hoppers weren’t finished as they took a scrum under the posts against the head, however they knocked on in the act of scoring. The Preston pack, who enjoyed a magnificent second half repeated the feat at the resultant restart. Replacement prop Matthew Lowes then marked his debut by bouncing through two tackles to score under the posts. The score was successfully converted by replacement full-back Terence McGuire.
In the final throes Fylde were restricted to occasional counter attacks but the Hoppers defence held firm. Having ushered Fylde into touch on halfway they finished with a real flourish. A well worked line out saw Hoppers switch the play down the blind side with Napier making a searing break down the five metre channel before off-loading to a delighted Gargett who glided over. McGuire missed the extras but Hoppers had secured a fine victory with a performance that John Young described as their best of the season. He was particularly impressed with the manner in which his side weathered the storm, held their nerve and regained their dominance. Young and his squad also noted that Head Coach Michael Lough and a number of supporters made the journey up the M55 to offer their backing to the lads. Therefore everybody involved last night would to pass on their thanks to Loughy, Chezzie and everybody else who was there.