‘JOHN BURGESS’ LANCASHIRE CUP FINAL
SEDGLEY PARK 28 PRESTON GRASSHOPPERS 24
Hoppers failed to retain the trophy at a sunbathed Sedgley Park on Bank Holiday Monday in a close encounter where the lead changed hands 4 times.
The conditions were perfect for open running rugby but, not for the first time this season, Hoppers found themselves outmuscled by a heavyweight pack and the hosts used their forward advantage to keep things tight and dominate the second period.
Hoppers were also victims of some ineffective refereeing at the break down which resulted in two players visiting the sin bin which virtually gifted the game to their opponents. Head Coach Michael Lough summed it up: “The two yellow cards really did for us and, although our backs always looked dangerous with ball in hand we were just unable to get enough possession to capitalize. Still, full marks to Sedgley who played to their strengths to win the game.”
Hoppers quickly showed what they were capable of as they ran back the kick off and Karl Fitzpatrick’s long pass found Sean Taylor coming into the line and his perfectly timed pass put in Matt Hughes at the corner in the 2nd minute. The kick failed but Hoppers had made an early statement of intent.
Matt Riley replied with a penalty to reduce the arrears but a strong run by Phil Mills created a forward platform from which Gareth Gore drove over and Taylor converted to make it 12-3.
Hoppers continued to show more finesse and guile in the backs but were struggling in the tight and a catch and drive from a lineout produced a try for hooker Richard Oxley. Encouraged by this and a yellow card for Killian Wallace on 25 minutes, the Sedgley pack turned the screw and battered away at the line and, after some desperate defence, were awarded a penalty try and the kick put the hosts 15-12 up.
Taylor leveled the scores with a penalty but another 5-metre scrum allowed former Hopper Juan Crous to drive over for an unconverted try. As half-time loomed, Taylor added a second penalty to make it 20-18 at the break.
At the restart, Matt Hughes’s chase of the kick off put the pressure on and forced an infringement to allow Taylor to slot 3 points to regain the lead.
Handling errors in the home backs did not help their cause but, on 50 minutes, referee Rawson again intervened, sending hooker Mills to the sin bin. This condemned Hoppers to another period of valiant defence and eventually an offside in front of the posts allowed Steve Collins to put his side back in the lead at 23-21.
Restored to full strength, Hoppers retaliated as Taylor kicked his fourth penalty with 10 minutes left to play but a now dominant Sedgley pack managed to suck in the defence and the ball was at last moved wide for replacement wing Fisher to race in at the corner to secure the win as some last gasp Hoppers’ efforts failed to produce a winning score.
Thanks to Mike Craig for allowing us to use his pictures which you can see by following the link below.