Hoppers fell to their second defeat in a row against Stourbridge but pushed the table toppers all the way giving them a real fright.
The game was still in the balance going in to the final minutes as Hoppers put in a fantastic second half performance to really test the league leaders but had to settle for just a try bonus point as a Stourbridge score in the final minute pushed them out of range for the losing bonus point.
“They had us under huge pressure in our 22 with their scrum and Stourbridge showed that they do certain things very well” said Head Coach Michael Lough. “I am proud of the guys from 1-20 as they gave 100% effort from the start.”
He added; “We have lost two in a row and that’s not good enough but we are not throwing out the game plan I have a lot of faith in the guys on the pitch.”
For all the forward power of Stourbridge, who maintained their perfect start to the season, a penalty try midway through the second half changed the game. Both sides conceded plenty of penalties throughout the game but the decision to award a penalty try from a scrum infringement, which was Hoppers only penalty in their 22 compared to four from the visitors, swung the momentum back with Stourbridge.
It was the visitors who made the better start and applied good early pressure and a nice kick through from Ben Barkley was touched down by wing Nigel Baker. James Hearn missed the conversion but added a penalty midway through the half before Barkley turned from provider into scorer after a powerful forward drive deep into the 22 was spun wide good hands by the backline capitalized on the man advantage.
Sean Taylor kicked the hosts only points before the break with a penalty after a series of Hoppers drives in the 22 were halted by cynical defence, Stourbridge would use every trick in the book to halt Hoppers who may have struggled with the set piece but were very effective in open play.
Stourbridge restored their 15 point advantage soon after the restart but Hoppers scored two quick tries to really get themselves back into the contest. Fitzpatrick fooled the defence on a typical sniping break following a strong drive from the forwards and a quick tap after another Stourbridge penalty deep in their own territory. From the restart a booming Sam Kindred clearance caused havoc in the defence and Matt Hughes pounced on a mistake to canter in from distance.
Hoppers trailed by just five points before the referee awarded the penalty try which allowed Stourbridge some breathing room as Hoppers had wrestled the initiative from the visitors.
Jack Ward and Dominic Moon would score for Hoppers either side of a third Hearn penalty to bring the game close in the closing stages. Again it was Hoppers defensive pressure that forced a Stourbridge mistake as a poor clearance allowed another powerful drive with a huge number advantage converted by Ward. Moon would then power his way over after doing well at a back pedaling scrum in the visitors 22 and Conor Murphy and replacement Josh Purnell did well to put the Captain over.
This looked like grabbing two well-deserved points for Hoppers who again trailed by just five points, as they were unable to make any of their try conversions, but deep into added time the visitors were able to keep the ball alive and the full squad managed to push Tatenda Mukarati over the line with what proved to be the final play.
Hoppers travel to Leicester Lions next week before hosting Sheffield Tigers on Dec 22nd.
The photos below are used with the kind permission of Mike Craig.
Here are the highlights of Hoppers scores plus an interview with Director of Rugby Gareth Dyer.