Preston Grasshoppers 36-7 Dudley Kingswinford
Hoppers put in a commanding performance to run in six tries against a determined but outmatched Dudley Kingswinford. This was the first home game for eight weeks, due to the poor weather, and Hoppers gave the fans a reminder of the style of rugby that helped them on their winning run earlier in the season.
After seeing his players dominate in all areas Head Coach Michael Lough was in a buoyant mood, saying: “it was a very good performance, we are satisfied with that and it’s also good to be playing at home with the guys getting a run out in front of our fans. This was a positive performance and while we have a couple of things to work on it’s good to get out there and play again”
“While we were in control for 80 minutes at times it was a scrappy game and with the breakdown not being well managed we struggled on occasions. Dudley are an ambitious and skilled side but they conceded a number of penalties which weren’t further punished”
There were a number good performances with Lough singling out Ali Murray as the ‘stand out player’, he also praised debutant Mo Mustafa and a strong back row.
Mustafa almost got his debut off to the perfect start when he stole the ball inside his own half and sprinted down the touchline only to be tackled just short of the line. This epitomised the defensive performance as Hoppers were tenacious at the breakdown and aggressive in contact, non-more so than Phil Baines who put in a crunching tackle just before the half.
The opening try came after ten minutes after a good 5m scrum was driven up to the line before Andy Irving touched down. The prop was on hand a few minutes later to grab his second after supporting well following a nice interchange in midfield from Sean Long and Karl Fitzpatrick. Sean Taylor converted both for a 14-0 lead.
The visitors then caught Hoppers off guard with a quick tap penalty in midfield nearly put them over in the corner but the winger stepped in touch. However, with Hoppers trying to clear their line the kick was charged down and Dudley capitilsed on the turnover to put Josh Watkins over.
That momentary lapse was the only time the Hoppers line was threatened and the replied instantly when Taylor returned a poor kick before combining well with Fitzpatrick who finished well in the corner.
Hoppers got the second half off to a perfect start wrapping up the bonus point 90 seconds after the restart when Matt Hughes benefited from a Murray turnover in the visitors 22 and good hands in midfield from Eddie Webster and Jack Ward before Fitzpatrick’s final pass put Hughes outside his man and the flying winger once again showed his pace and try scoring ability.
Hoppers spent much of the second half camped deep inside the visitors half and after a number of penalties and set pieces they finally turned the territory into points when Webster touched down from the base of a well-controlled line out drive.
Replacement Adam Birchall rounded off the scoring after intercepting a wayward pass on the 10m line, however he still had work to do to beat the full back before sprinting clear. Whatever ball got in the second half was nullified by strong defence from Hoppers who rarely let the visitors out of their own half summed up by the final minutes where even with the result assured Hoppers were unwilling to give a yard and tackled to the final whistle.
Next week sees the rearranged fixture against Sheffield Tigers that fell victim to the weather before Christmas with Hoppers travelling to Huddersfield on February 16th.
The photos below are used with the kind permission of Mike Craig.