STOURBRIDGE 32 PRESTON GRASSHOPPERS 22
This game against the league leaders was in the balance until the last few minutes but, not for the first time this season, Hoppers were out muscled and bullied in the tight, conceding two penalty tries.
Director of Rugby, Gareth Dyer reflected: “We had very much the better of the first half and were in contention for an hour before Stourbridge changed their tactics and fell back on their physical, well-drilled pack to take control in the last quarter.”
Hoppers had a great start, showing just what they are capable of as some great handling and offloads was rounded off by Gareth Gore with just two minutes on the clock but Sean Taylor’s conversion rebounded off a post.
Home kicker Jamie Hearn reduced the arrears with a penalty but, from the resulting kick off, Hoppers were back on the attack, Taylor making no mistake this time with a penalty followed by a second after a dangerous tackle on Mike Haley brought a yellow card.
The visitors continued to boss possession although, ominously, they started to concede penalties in the scrum. A lineout steal set up another attacking platform and, after a penalty miss, Taylor was on target again.
Hoppers continued to struggle in the tight and on 35 minutes prop Andy Irving saw yellow and the home pack took advantage as prop Mark George was driven over and Hearn converted.
But Hoppers were to have the final say in the half as Taylor slotted his fourth penalty to put his side deservedly 17-10 up at the break.
At the restart Hoppers put themselves under pressure attempting to run the ball out of defence and, having coughed up possession, this time Will Keenan was dispatched to the sin bin. Opting for the scrum, the drive was stopped illegally and the referee was under the posts for a converted penalty try to level the scores.
Straight from the restart, Hoppers were back in front as a charged down clearance saw Andy Napier follow up and touch down but Taylor’s kick was wide.
Stourbridge now tightened up the game with a series of scrums and, aided by some sympathetic refereeing, racked up the penalty count and, after 66 minutes, Dan Madden was the third player to visit the bin.
Hoppers held out until the 70th minute when the defence was broached wide out by full back Sam Baker to put his side ahead for the first time.
With a three point margin, the result was still in the balance, but more forward pressure continued to monopolise home possession and, as had happened at Lightfoot Green, the bonus try was again engineered with a drive for the line with everyone piling in producing a second converted penalty try.