Stockport 20 – 30 Hoppers
The Sean Long era began at Preston Grasshoppers and got off to a winning start with a hard fought victory at Stockport.
Long was one of five changes made by Head Coach Dave Baldwin as Hoppers looked to get back to winning ways following last week’s defeat at Hull.
Baldwin was pleased with the performance of the side saying; “we played with a lot more intensity and competed better winning most of the 50/50 battles. Rich Morton coming into play tight head really solidified the scrum and it was great to get Wayne Steel back playing as his experience is key. We played well and looked threatening any time we kept the ball and showed real patience in attack”
He was also full of praise for Long who put in a good showing on his Union debut grabbing a try inside the first half; “Sean is a work in progress but he did well with no problems and will only get better so we will just have to see how it goes.”
To go along with the new faces in the Hoppers side there were a couple of familiar ones in the Stockport line-up as Alex Zavallis-Roebuck and Jordan Pearson are now first team regulars with the Cheshire club after recent spells at Lightfoot Green. While both crossed the try line there was little more they could do to affect the outcome as their opposite numbers once again dictated play for Hoppers with Dominic Moon putting in a typically physical performance and Graham Holroyd pulling the strings behind the pack.
It was the hosts that got off to the better start and were in front on ten minutes after a Josh Longmore penalty but it only served to kick Hoppers in to action as they came back and took control of the contest. Moon and Steel carried well in to the Stockport half and Holroyd’s kick wasn’t dealt with thanks to a great chase with the fly half himself tackling Longmore in goal for a five metre scrum. From the resulting set piece Hoppers first attack was stopped but then Holroyd put the boot to good use again stabbing through for Long who collected the ball well to score in an eerily rugby league style play.
Hoppers controlled much of the half but could only add to the score with a well struck Holroyd penalty giving them a 10-3 lead at half time.
That lead was extended soon after the restart as a great surge deep in to Stockport territory lead by Matt Hughes down the touchline put Hoppers in a great position and after sucking in the defence they created space outside for Sean Taylor to score.
Stockport came back well as they scored two tries either side of another Holroyd penalty as Zavallis-Roebuck’s kick through wasn’t dealt with and the fly half latched on to the free ball to score. And Pearson smashed his way over from close range after a five metre scrum to reduce the deficit to just three points with 20 minutes to play.
Hoppers pulled away as once again Holroyd used his boot to good effect with a perfectly weighted cross field kick that was collected by Taylor who cut inside his opposite number for his second try.
Longmore landed a penalty to put Stockport just a point behind and they looked to press on for more but a great try line stand and a further penalty from Holroyd so Hoppers claim the spoils with a deserved victory.
After the game Long spoke of his first taste of National League rugby Union; “I really enjoyed it and it was great to get the boots back on after not playing for five months. I am not exactly sure of all the calls and the moves but the try was definitely one that I knew as I have played alongside Graham (Holroyd) for a long time. I was a little rusty and there is a lot to learn but it will only get better and it’s great to get the win.”
This was a great all round performance that the team can be really proud of as they fronted up well in the scrum and the forwards put in a huge effort in the loose and were on top of the contact area and the breakdown to go along with some strong running through the heart of the Stockport defence. The backs looked dangerous whenever they had possession and were unlucky not to increase the score line. Holroyd and Long were able to pull the strings and had an instant chemistry which was able to put Hoppers in good positions and this will only get better as the combinations get more game time together.
Next week Hoppers entertain Hull Ionians.