Photo courtesy of Mick Craig
Matt Hughes continued his terrific start to the season with a hat-trick of tries as Hoppers put on a scintillating display of attacking rugby to claim a bonus point against a spirited Harrogate side.
Head Coach Dave Baldwin said: “it’s great to pick up the bonus point, we are five games unbeaten so confidence is high, with the ball in hand we have good strike runners who can get behind a defence. The more we work on our skills the better we will be but with players in good form like Matt Hughes we just need to produce more of the same”
Baldwin was also complimentary of a Harrogate team who put up a serious challenge throughout the game; “They played well surprised us with their style of play to run everything which really tested our defence, especially from turn overs.”
Hoppers opened the scoring after 15 minutes when good work down the left from the forwards was capitalized upon by Graham Holroyd’s perfect weighted cross kick finding Hughes in acres of space wide out on the right wing, this is a ploy that Hoppers have used to good effect with Holroyd’s pin point accuracy a real weapon.
Hughes benefitted from team mates good work for the first try, but his second was all down to the winger; after receiving the ball inside his own half he backed his pace to beat the first man, set off down the wing before cutting inside to score a fantastic solo try, Holroyd’s second conversion gave Hoppers 14-0 half time lead.
Hoppers were in control of proceeding during the half but were made to work hard to keep Harrogate from scoring as the visitors decided on a couple of occasions to kick to the corner and try and set up a catch and drive rather than take a shot at goal. Hoppers defence, especially from set piece moves close to the line was excellent and really set a precedent for the game.
The second half couldn’t have go off to a better start for Hoppers as Harrogate once again tried to run the ball from deep inside their own territory and a wayward pass fell to Phil Baines and the winger was able to stroll in for the score, Holroyd again added the conversion.
Harrogate replied with two tries in an impressive ten minute spell that showed real promise, as they were determined to keep running the ball at any chance taking numerous quick tap penalties.After having enjoyed a prolonged period of possession in Hoppers half the numbers game finally paid off and Ryan Peacey scored from close range.
Sam Bottomley scored their second after the ball was turned over in midfield and with Hoppers defence out of shape the centre had too much pace for the Hoppers covering players.
Hoppers kept the scoreboard ticking with two Holroyd penalties either side of the Bottomley try and wrapped up the bonus point when Nathan Fowles broke from the base of a ruck, showing good pace and awareness to capitalize on a free play to sprint into the right corner from outside the 22 to score.
Harrogate pressed on but a great try line stand from Hoppers was rewarded with a turn over and after Sean Taylor’s clearing kick was allowed to bounce it was only fitting that Hughes should be the first to the ball and he sprinted 60m for his hat trick try and rounded off an impressive victory.
Hoppers were better than Harrogate in all aspects of the game and benefitted from an improved set piece and another measured performance from the half backs who controlled the game well. The depth that Hoppers can boast all across the park is certainly keeping players on their toes as players are having to perform to ensure a place in the starting XV, when players came off the bench they contributed well whether it be a returning Richie Sands or new comers like Ali Murray and Josh Purnell there is plenty to be excited about.