Preston Grasshoppers 29 – 26 Bromsgrove
Hoppers stretched their winning streak to seven games but for the second week in a row left it late to secure the win. With a finish that you couldn’t script a last minute Matt Hughes try not only stole the victory but wrapped up the try bonus point for a full 5-point haul.
This was a true game of two halves with Hoppers playing some excellent first half rugby to stroll out to a 22-3 half time lead before conceding 23 unanswered points to a gritty Bromsgrove side.
Speaking on the game Head Coach Michael Lough said; “The first half was some of the best rugby we have played all season. We were disciplined, organised, and clinical and converted that into points. At half time we were conscious of what happened last week but they got possession and grew in confidence and without much ball we forced the play too much and gave it back to them.”
“Fitness was a huge thing today; we had to defend for a long spell but still had enough left at the end to take our chance. We need to look at how we keep the ball, it is easy to score but we struggle playing a tight game. Credit must go to the bench, it is a real luxury to have guys come on and make a real impact.”
Hoppers defence was superb during the first half and Bromsgrove struggled to make any genuine line breaks and when the hosts had the ball they looked clinical and sharp in attack.
A Sean Taylor penalty opened the scoring before two tries in quick succession grabbed the initiative. Adam Birchall rounded off a superb team try that started with a line-out on Hoppers 22, a powerful drive by Gareth Gore got Hoppers onto the front foot before a subtle inside pass from Karl Fitzpatrick put Andy Irving in space. The prop offloaded to Jack Ward who carried well and his centre partner Phil Baines put Birchall away for the score.
A few minutes later after an impressive forward drive, Fitzpatrick again produced a wonderful bit of skill to chip into the in goal area catching the onrushing defence flat footed and Phil Baines was first to the ball for the score. Taylor converted both tries.
Bromsgrove got on the score sheet with a Richard Mahony penalty, the fly half was in excellent form with the boot converting all six of his attempts at goal. But it was Hoppers who would end the half on the front foot capitalising on a poor clearing kick. Hoppers quickly moved the ball from left to right with Conor Murphy providing the extra man; the back row forward still had work to do, out pacing the defence into the 22 before powering his way through the last man touching down in the corner.
If anyone thought the second half would be a procession they were soon proved wrong, a high error count in the opening ten minutes gifted Bromsgrove two tries and all the momentum. First a couple of penalties allowed Grove into the 22 and good recycling the forward pack resulted in a try for prop Kevin Salisbury. Soon after a Hoppers scrum in front of their own posts squirted out the side and a great pass from Mahony put wing Aaron Higgins over in the corner. Mahony converted both and narrowed the gap to 22-17
Hoppers couldn’t get any possession or territory and Grove grew in confidence, there forwards were able to control the tempo and grind down the game with Mahony adding three penalties to take what looked like a match winning lead.
However, with Grove trying to run the clock down a great steal from Chris Gale gave Hoppers one last chance. Will Keenan made powerful yards up the middle before a superb break by Fitzpatrick presented the fly half with a two-on-one and he timed his pass to Hughes to perfection with the flying winger rounding under the posts.
Photos below courtesy of Mike Craig.