PRESTON GRASSHOPPERS 29 BIRMINGHAM SOLIHULL 13
Hoppers recorded their third straight bonus point victory but were made to work by a spirited Birmingham Solihull. A brace of tries from winger Phil Baines and back row Conor Murphy secured all five points but masked a mistake ridden performance that was scrappy at best.
Head coach Michael Lough was in a positive mind about the result but was well aware that there was a lot to improve upon saying; “It wasn’t pretty but we won and I am happy with that. Our set piece was rocky and we were sloppy at times and when you start like that it’s hard to pick it up, we were just a bit flat which compounded the errors.”
“There were some excellent individual flashes and we were fortunate for them, in particular Conor Murphy who picked, drove and carried very well but we need to be stronger as a team and we had a tendency to get isolated, panic and start throwing passes that were never going to reach the man”
Lough was also adamant that Hoppers were not helped by some weak officiating; “we have been strong at the breakdown the last few weeks but it’s difficult when the ref won’t allow you to play and let’s them slow down everything at the ruck”
It was the Bees who struck first with a Jack Jolly penalty but Hoppers responded quickly with the first try of the game. A strong run from Sean Taylor, who has been brilliant on the counter attack and in open space all season, put Hoppers behind the gain line and after a quick recycle Baines was able to chip over the defence and beat the cover to the ball to score.
Birmingham struck back when Dan Barritt crossed in the right corner after great work from Oscar Heath who took a difficult offload high above his head before sprinting clear and providing the crucial inside pass to his winger for a classy score.
It was one-way traffic after that as Hoppers forwards took control and were able to dictate the tempo but some poor handling limited their chances. They regained the lead just before the half hour when Murphy powered over on a great line following a scrum on the 22, Hoppers moved the ball to the left and Baines nearly crossed in the corner but the winger didn’t have to wait long for his second as five minutes later a brilliant series of possession, led by Sean Long and Chris Gale, took Hoppers from deep inside their own half to the try line with Baines coming off his wing to score.
The second half was a scrappy affair with numerous penalties and handling errors which spoilt the flow of the game. Neither side could really get a grip on the game but Hoppers strong defence limited the Bees opportunities and they finally wrapped up the bonus point and the game after stealing a line out on the 22 and driving to the line with Murphy breaking away with a small pod of forwards to touch down.
Heath grabbed a late try for the Bees when Hoppers made a complete mess of a scrum and the full back turned scrum half hacked on and was able to go over practically unchallenged to make the last ten interesting.
However it was Hoppers who had the last laugh after a bizarre passage of play to end the game with numerous mistakes from both sides deep in Birmingham’s 22 culminated with a pass not going to hand and the ball bouncing around in goal. Replacement Ed Webster was quickest to react pouncing on the loose ball.
Below are a selection of photos taken by Mike Craig. Thanks once again Mike.
Here are the scoring highlights from the game and post match interview with Gareth Dyer.