PRESTON GRASSHOPPERS 43 OTLEY 35
After half an hour’s play, it seemed that there would be only one winner in this all-action game as Otley clinched a bonus point with their fourth try. Hoppers had started brightly and in the 3rd minute a miss pass from Lewis Allen put in Sean Taylor who converted but Otley fought back and a missed tackle allowed wing Oli Cicognini to cross, Ben Cooper converting.
Hoppers attacked briefly, Taylor making ground with a chip and chase for replacement Brad Tuff to be tackled just short. But the visitors then took charge helped by some indifferent tackling and a yellow card for Will Keenan. First, Otley gained possession from a 22-metre dropout and fly half Ben Fairclough ghosted through for a try then, from the restart, a loose pass on halfway was intercepted by Mike Coady who sprinted in at the posts. The visiting backs continued to test Hoppers’ defence and, from a clear overlap, flanker Dan Temm cantered in for the bonus point try on 33 minutes. Cooper was successful with all three kicks to put his side 28-7 up.
Restored to full strength, Hoppers’ backs at last got their act together and carries by Mike Haley and Craig Aikman put Matt Hughes over and Taylor’s conversion reduced the deficit to 14 points at the break.
Whatever was said at the break obviously had an effect as Hoppers started the second period much more positively. A break from Taylor set up the platform from which the pack battered away at the line with Otley forced to infringe in defence. Just as a yellow card and possible penalty try seemed on the cards, Dominic Moon broke from a scrum and drove over for Taylor to convert.
The home defence was again caught out as scrum half Stephen Depledge made the break only for the final pass to be knocked on close to the line. The attack continued until Haley got his hands on the ball deep in his own 22. Although very near to the touchline, the centre beat his man and outpaced the defence to score a fine, individual length-of-the-field try. Taylor could not convert but made amends with a 40-metre penalty on 68 minutes to edge his side one point ahead at 29-28.
Tails now up, Hoppers kept the pressure on with strong runs from Jack Ward and replacement Dan Madden and a drive from the pack put Will Keenan over and Taylor’s kick stretched the lead to 8 points.
But with just 6 minutes left on the clock, Hoppers defence was again found wanting as Temm brushed off would-be tacklers to race in for his second and Cooper’s kick raised the prospect of another reverse.
Hoppers needed to keep possession for the remaining minutes but went one better as breaks from Haley and Ward were finished off by Moon and Taylor converted to secure the win.
Head Coach Michael Lough praised his side for a never-say-die attitude: “Otley were physically a bigger side and we did not deal with it in the first half and lacked hunger. It was better after the break and the bench played its part especially Gareth Gore who added some much-needed aggression. He also singled out Dan Madden, Mike Haley and Rich Morton for their contributions. Otley tired and our fight back is testament to our fitness.”
Thanks to Mike Craig for giving us permission to use his excellent photos.