Leicester Lions 36-38 Preston Grasshoppers
Hoppers recorded their fourth consecutive away victory with a 38-36 victory over Leicester Lions in one of the most entertaining games of rugby this season. With a strong wind gusting across the pitch both sides had to abandon the traditional kicking game when playing in to the wind leaving them to keep the ball alive and attempt to run from deep creating an open and fast paced game with eleven tries.
Hoppers head coach Dave Baldwin was pleased with the win saying; “we controlled the game early and created a lot of problems for their defence scoring three tries but slipped off the pace for a while and allowed them back in to the game. We were fragile at times in defence and should really have gone clear and won comfortably but we played well in the second half against the wind and to go away and score six tries and get the five points is great.”
It was Leicester who took the lead with a penalty in the opening minutes from John Boden but Hoppers would then score three times in a dominant 20 minute spell.
The first when the referee awarded a penalty try after the Lions collapsed a scrum close to their own line. Matt Hughes increased the lead with a great team try as Hoppers carried well and made good ground in the midfield before Nathan Fowles broke from the ruck and released Connor Murphy who in turn found Hughes and the flying winger touched down in the corner.
Sean Taylor added the third following another break from Fowles, who impressed on his return to the team after injury, after Hoppers had turned the ball over inside the host 22.
Hoppers then allowed Leicester back into the game after some poor tackling allowed Jamie Stokes to score under the posts followed by Steve Cross in similar style as Leicester clawed their way back to trail by just two points at 19-17.
It looked like that was going to be the half time score but the hosts made a mess of clearing their lines and presented Hoppers with a 5m scrum allowing Phil Baines to grab Hoppers fourth try and the bonus point. The pack were able to set a solid platform and Graham Holroyd and Jack Ward put Baines in to space who showed good strength to score and regain the momentum for Hoppers going into the break with a 24-17 lead.
The second half continued in the same fashion with attractive running rugby, but with the wind at their backs Leicester were able to control the territory for longer periods.
The hosts levelled the scores with a great team try as willing support runners kept the ball alive until Drew Rudkin was able to score under the posts.
Hoppers had to absorb plenty of pressure but they were rewarded for their patience as they finally got some territory and took full advantage as a penalty was taken quickly by Fowles and Holroyd’s pass was collected by Killian Wallace on a great running line to exploit a huge gap in the scrambling home defence to score.
Dominic Moon looked to have wrapped the game up after the powerful number 8 broke from the base of a scrum on half way, he was well supported by Matt Charters and when the replacement looked to offload it was Moon who had made up the ground to collect the return pass and score a wonderful try, Holroyd’s kick hit the cross bar and bounced over for the extras giving Hoppers what proved to be the vital points.
There was time for Leicester to make a game of it as Tom Williams crossed late on after the hosts had been camped on the line and sniping round the fringes for some time, but Boden’s missed kick meant they were still two scores adrift with time ticking away and although Jack Gibbons scored deep in to added time it only served to give the hosts the losing bonus point.
Hoppers can take great pride in a style of rugby that would have troubled any team with forwards and backs combining well to score a number of impressive tries. With big carrying forwards willing to make the hard yards and backs with the pace and precision to cut a defence to shreds Hoppers will look to build on this for the remainder of the season. The return of Fowles added a real spark to the side and his combination with Holroyd picked up where it had been before the youngsters injury.