Preston Grasshoppers vs. Loughborough Students – KO 2.30pm
Hoppers side sees three changes from the side that lost narrowly at Huddersfield last week. Sean Long is available again after his Salford commitments and returns at fly-half in place of Lewis Allen who drops to the bench. Wayne Steel is unavailable as he is currently cycling to Twickenham as part of the Hoppers 2 Twickers team who are raising money for ‘Help for Heroes’. Wayne is replaced by North of England U20’s forward Conor Murphy.
The final change sees a debut for England U18’s Clubs and Schools centre Mike Haley. He replaces assistant player coach Karl Fitzpatrick. The bench sees returns for Josh Purnell and Willl Keenan.
1. Andy Irving, 2. Alan Holmes, 3. Rich Morton, 4. Conor Murphy, 5. Alex Austin, 6. Kilian Wallace, 7. Matt Charters, 8. Dom Moon, 9. Nathan Fowles, 10. Sean Long, 11. Phil Baines, 12. Jack Ward, 13. Mike Haley, 14. Matt Gargett, 15. Sean Taylor
16. Phil Mills, 17. Chris Gale, 18. WIll Keenan, 19. Lewis Allen, 20. Josh Purnell
1. Jack Steadman (c), 2. Tom Hobbs, 3. Fraser Balmain, 4. Matt McKenna, 5. Rob Conquest, 6. Joe Atkinson, 7. Phil Whitfield, 8. Gus Davies, 9. Tom Pointer, 10. Sam Katz, 11. Ed Rolston, 12. Callum WIlson, 13. Courtney Morrison, 14. Craig Dowsett, 15. Alex Davis
16. Harry Williams, 17. Josh Gape, 18. Ali Bone, 19. Chris Surman, 20. Joe McManus
Hoppers end their National 2 North League campaign with the reverse fixture from the opening day of the season against already promoted as Champions, Loughborough Students.
With last weeks defeat at Huddersfield ruling out a play off place for Hoppers the home team will be keen to end the season on a high note with a win against the Students who defeated a rather nervous looking Hoppers back in August last year. If Hoppers can maintain the form shown in recent games they’ll give the Champions a good run for their money, although defeat could result in Hoppers dropping up to three places in the league.
Loughborough Students have the advantage of a large squad of players, tempered by the fact that they move on once their term at University’s over. This season they haven’t had the luxury of being able to pull out of games when their players are selected for representative duties, although for once they have concentrated their efforts on league matches, which has born fruit by way of promotion. The ‘representative’ rule had inconvenienced Hoppers on more than one occasion in previous years, but we won’t dwell on old scars!
Fixtures between the two rugby clubs go back as far as 1983 when the home team won at Lightfoot Green. The 1987/88 fixture in Preston saw the Students XV include their current Director of Rugby, Alan Buzza at full-back, together with future Scotland forwards Andy McDonald and captain on the day, Adam Buchanan-Smith. Interestingly, when the fixture was played at Hoppers during February 1990 Paul Grayson and future Irish International Niall Malone faced one another in their respective team’s stand-off position. The University team also included Welsman Derwyn Jones and another Scot, Eric Peters in the pack. You will notice a copy of the front cover of the match day programme for the encounter in 1987, a game which resulted in an away victory by eleven points to four. The record so far stands at five victories to Hoppers, eight to the Students with the game in 1985/6 due to have been played in Preston being cancelled. Hoppers dramatic victory over the Students in the mud bath last season at Lightfoot Green, will stay long in the memory of anyone who witnessed it
Amongst others since last season, the Students have lost the services of Mike MacFarlane (to Esher) and Charlie Matthews (Harlequins/Esher) together with their England U’20 players Matt Everard and Charlie Williams. The influential Camillo Parilli & George Drake plus a number of other players have moved on since last term. These two in particular had been a thorn in many N2N team’s side over the past seasons and won’t be missed by the home team this Saturday. As is the norm for Loughborough University, their places have been adequately filled and a glance at the leading try scorers for the league shows Craig Holland in top spot with twenty six tries and Stuart Hall occupying second place in the points table.
With Hoppers second string celebrating their new title of ‘Bateman BMW Premier League Champions’ there are just a couple of rearranged games remaining for the rest of Hoppers teams in the University of Salford Leagues this week.
Hoppers 3rds vs. Birkenhead Park 2nds
Hoppers 4ths vs. Tyldesley 2nds