On a fabulous spring day in Lancashire the lasses of Preston Grasshoppers lost out to the Roses of England Deaf Rugby in what was a closely fought encounter that isn’t reflected in the final score of 12-29 to the visitors.
By Steve Tiernan
With injuries and availability ruling most of the normal 1st XV out, Hoppers took the opportunity to give newer and developing players some valuable game time. So with a mix of experience and developing players named in the squad, morale was high and a solid hoppers side took to the pitch confident that they could get a result against a national deaf side.
The game started at a great pace and for the first quarter hoppers just couldn’t get their hands on the ball albeit the hoppers defence was comfortably slowing England’s advance. However, with pressure usually yielding results, England got a penalty for a high tackle and from that, duly scored when an England forward ran straight at a gap in the Hopper’s defence. With the conversion short, Hoppers trailed 0-5.
With the voice of the experienced Danielle Nash ringing in the girls’ ears, Hoppers rallied and patiently built up some great phases of play, pushing the England defence onto the back foot. Hoppers took a quick penalty through Elaine Vassie and with Kate Hamilton and Stephanie Gray combining to advance another 20 meters into a disorganised England defence, the next phase put Sarah Lovejoy into space, forcing the England Fullback to scramble a tackle just short of the line. With the hoppers pack getting to the breakdown quickly in numbers, the ball was eventually taken over by Danielle Nash to even the score. Dawn Jones stepped up and slotted the conversion to put Hoppers ahead 7-5.
The game then opened up with both sides sensing that each could carve out opportunities with ball in hand. Hoppers put together some scintillating phases of play, moving the ball quickly into running hands however, unforced errors did give England some breathing space and frustrated the Hoppers attack. Some of these errors allowed England to advance up the pitch and from an England Scrum, just over the 10m line, the England centre came through the hoppers defence virtually unopposed to score in the corner. With the conversion wide, England led 7-10. Hoppers struck back almost immediately and from a scrum, Elaine Vassie sent a backline into action which culminated in a superb try from Winger Dawn Jones after some tenacious work out wide. With the conversion striking the post, Hoppers led 12-5 at half time.
The second half seen the game restart where it left off, with some good possession from both sides, squandered through unforced errors. With both sides emptying the benches to replace injuries and exhausted players, Hoppers had the opportunity to bring on Lauren Jenkins, Charlotte Eddleston and 17yr old Abby Lees for only their second ever games – well done girls! Hoppers started to feel the lack of experienced numbers on the bench and as England pushed forward some tired tackling in the defence started to creep in and with high risk attacking from hoppers while chasing the game allowed England to score 3 unanswered tries in the half, converting 2 to finish the game 12-29.
In what was a great game and a great occasion for the club as a whole, it was wonderful to meet and play against the England Deaf Ladies side and help them raise their profile and prepare before their trip to the World Deaf 7s in Australia next month. As for the Hoppers ladies, albeit a frustrating result, the phases of play that they put together showed a real positive step forward and indicated how far they have come over the past 12 months.
There is exciting times ahead for these Lancashire lasses!
Up the Hoppers!
Starting XV: Kate Hamilton, Kelly Singleton, Sarah Boaler, Rachel Martin-Grey, Stephanie Gray, Alice Davies, Danielle Nash, Maggie Forbes, Becky Ingham, Elaine Vassie, Dawn Jones, Sarah Lovejoy, Rachel Dennison, Claire Platt, Rosanna Fane.
Replacements: Lauren Jenkins, Charlotte Eddleston, Abby Lees, Katie Singleton
Next Game: 8th April, 2nd XV at home V Burnley (Friendly)