U13s Win Blackstick Blue Cup

Date: 28 April 2013

Hoppers U13s   5      Fylde U13s    5

Hoppers win Cup 2-0 on drop kick shoot out.

Southport, Sunday 28 April 2013

A grey and windy day greeted the lads as they got off the coach at Southport Rugby Club as the finale of the competitive season was about to get underway. As the match time approached, and the teams went on to the pitch, there was good support for both sides with around 100 people watching them play on the big, first team pitch. By the time the match kicked off, the conditions were deteriorating, with rain  in the air and a vicous wind blowing diagonally from corner flag to corner flag, right to left as viewed from the stand. This was to have a major influence on the game, withe the cliche ‘a game of two halves’ being very apt.

Hoppers were playing against the wind in the first half, and immediately put themselves under pressure by not securing the kick off and conceding possession to Fylde. Fylde eventually forced a penalty in our 22 and moved the ball to their left, only for Kieran to rush up from full back and launch their winger into touch.

The pressure from Fylde, though, was relentless with Hoppers really struggling in the viscous wind to clear the danger. Kieran had a great solo run to get the ball to the half way, and Harvey put in a good clearing kick: most of the play, though, was in the Hoppers half, and often in our red zone. Hoppers were grafting well against a strong Fylde forward pack and a very strong centre that had to be ‘double teamed’ to contain him. Tom at scrum half did heroically as he spent most of the day going backwards under pressure against a strong Fylde pack and a wind-induced lottery of line outs.

Hoppers did have the occasional chance to move the ball in the backs and Jake put in a good arcing run on our left wing getting into their 22, only to be stopped wide by good cover as he cut inside and, despite good close support by Adam, the attack was ended with Hoppers losing possession. Kieran was having to put in some excellent defense at full back as the dangerous Fylde centre broke several times, and following such a tackle he forced a turn over and Hoppers again had some meagre territorial advantage.

Back came Fylde taking advantage of the wind a their backs and Hoppers again had to put in some great defense to stop them taking the lead, notably Jake, Kieran, and Harvey. It was all Fylde at this period and they put in attack after attack and the inevitable happened as they scored the first try. After several phases, Hoppers just ran out of defense on our right hand side and their winger went in to score. Conversion missed, 5-0. The Fylde crowd were relieved as they realized they needed some points on the board for the second half.

The try seemed to galvanize Hoppers and they started to play somewhere near their
potential. A great run on the left wing by Jake followed slick handling in mid field, this being some feat in the strong wind and both sides were making too many handling errors and dropping passes. Unfortunately, Jake was just stopped in their 22 by the Fylde defense and the ball was slowed down, ending in a set scrum. Following this Hoppers had their first chances to score, firstly with a run from Lewis, then by Owen, then by Kieran. Half time came 5-0 to Fylde with the Hoppers supporters regretting the missed opportunities to go in at least level at half time, meaning we were now having to chase the game.

The second half was one of the most tense ever seen! It was clear that Hoppers would have the better of the conditions and this panned out with lots and lots of possession and territory to Hoppers. They dominated all of the game since Fylde scored, but could not translate this into scores. This was down in some degree to Hoppers not being at their best and not following the Hoppers’ game plan (catch up rugby and the tension of a final has a big effect) and partly a great performance by the Fylde forwards. They won a series of about 8 set scrums, half on our head, making any continuity and fluidity impossible. Combined with this were several dropped balls and not converting chances in the back, very unlike Hoppers. Fair play though, Fylde were also playing out of their skins in defense so we would not be too critical of Hoppers in the face of such committed play by the opposition!

Fylde though never looked like they were going to trouble Hoppers to score again – unless the tension got to me, I do not remember them ever being in the Hoppers 22 for the whole of the second half, and only in Hoppers half on one or two occasions. However we were playing catch up and the Hoppers faithful were wondering if we would break them down?

The answer was yes! Finally we put together the kind of moves and pressure we do week in week out. A great, powerful run by Owen on the right got us well over the gain line, and on the front foot. Sam M kept the move going, followed by Adam with a strong run and we, for once, won quick ball and moved the ball back to the left through the backs. Jamie straightened and was nearly smothered, but managed to get the ball to his outside and eventually to Kieran who powered past the despairing defense on our left wing to cut nearer the post and score. An agonizingly close kick just missed, to make the scores level on 5-5, about 10 minutes to go.

Fylde did not do themselves any favours with a short kick off putting themselves under pressure, and it looked likely, with the Hoppers’ domination in the second half, that we would go on to win. However, Fylde were still dominating the set scrum and the wind was still making the line out a lottery and Hoppers failed to really turn the screw. However, we still had a couple of chances to win with an attempted grounding from Ben, following a good  move in the backs and a strong run on the right wing, was just stopped by last ditch, heroic defense from Fylde on the line. Hoppers were also on the wrong side of the penalty count, probably reflecting the dominance of the Fylde forwards on the day, and the difficulty of continually playing behind the gain line.

Hoppers had a final push down the short, left hand side following a good run by Lewis and Kieran and several drives – but, as so often, the  phases ended with a Fylde win in the set scrum. The game ended with Fylde kicking the ball out backwards into touch from winning a scrum, just happy to relieve the pressure and end the game. Final score, Hoppers 5, Fylde 5.

An amazingly tense game for both sets of spectators, but there was more tension to come. The programme outlined the complex rules of the competition in the case of a draw at Full Time, but it was fairly simple as we had both scored just one try each  – the match would go to a ‘drop out shootout’, with 5 alternate drop outs from different players. Not the way we would have wanted such a hard fought, tight final to finish, with most spectators thinking a ‘golden’ score extra time would be better. That is, extra time till someone scores any more points, a format often used in Rugby.

Anyway, the players stood on the half way line and those nominated must have been very nervous. Not as nervous, though, as the spectators! The difficult conditions made making a drop goal from the 22M line really hard, and it is something that we do not really practice for other than a couple of players –  it was likely that it would be who can score, rather than who would miss.

Drop goal one missed by Fylde, then up stepped Lewis who majestically connected very smoothly and the ball went high and straight, like Jonny Wilkinson! One up for Hoppers.
Drop goal two missed by both sides.
Drop goal three missed by both sides.
Drop goal four missed by Fylde, meaning if Hoppers scored then they would take the cup. Up stepped Kieran. Hope soared for the win. Kieran bounced the ball several times like his namesake ( Jonny!!!) and then.. He tied his lace!!!! Then hit the ball clean and straight to win the cup, Hoppers players running from the half way line to congratulate Kieran.

Joy to Hoppers, heartbreak to Fylde. At least all of the Fylde players had missed their kicks and the responsibility did not fall to one or two players, which is so cruel. A wonderfully tense match played in great spirit by both sides and (yes, I know I am totally biased)  the right team won in the end.

Three wins in a row, 10/11, 11/12 and now 12/13 for our age group in the Lancashire Cup. Also, Hoppers have now equaled the record of a Club having at least one winner in the Junior Cups 7 years running, and now have the most wins (22) since the inception of the awards (great news later that the U15’s also won a narrow victory in even worse conditions 6-3). This year was also the 25th anniversary of the Cup.

We move on to the tour next week and then look forward to the new season and another Cup campaign – Hoppers know that they need to work well and keep improving with excellent teams like Fylde chasing them hard – today it could not have been any closer!

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