So here it is! The water has subsided enough to give the final round of the group phase of the Lancashire Cup.
Are we all ready?
I’m not. After weeks of cancellations and one beautiful day at the beach I am not sure that my nerves can take it. As I sit in the gentle glow of the laptop I imagine a scene shared in many of the “Hopperites” homes. We eagerly check the website and BBC weather App to affirm if the torrential downpours will continue.
All looks well!
Things can change though. Just last week we saw a vision of perfection in the pass move and score stakes with the sand under our feet. Can this be replicated in the 13 a side melee that is ready for us in the form of our decent opposition! They are expecting to beat us and beat us well. Can we do it? Are we ready? Who knows!
Match day and it seems that only one side has come. After a brief discussion (Namely what game should great uncle Neil referee – if not ALL games) the opposition come into sight. As coaches we see the reality of the task ahead. Nothing but the best will do. As supporters we see a vast crowd forming, all with the intent to cheer on their “Winning” side to the final whistle. Tension already sits uncomfortably in the warm ups with the sublime being entwined with the appalling. Is this our day?
Can we leave today with ALL WINS – NO POINTS AGAINST – FINAL PLACE BOOKED?
The first match saw a tight tussle between our opponents Fylde and Vale. The first half saw both teams struggle to gain forward dominance and the backs handling difficult in the greasy wet conditions. Both teams had a great presence on the field with little weakness easy to see on both sides. Quick ball and forward grit would seem to be the order of the day. Each missed tackle didn’t appear to put points on the board, but certainly the swing of the pendulum would fall to the less proficient at bringing the man down. One try a piece and one conversion each for the first half. As hoppers we watched; we learned; we didn’t flinch and we got on with business. Incidentally Vale won 28 points to 7. To be honest we were not particularly bothered as we had our own destiny to write!
The warm up prior to the first game against Fylde seemed to take in a new intensity. Justin as the knight to his young squires spoke of playing the game at our pace. Using the dominance of our forwards (despite some key omissions) and the foot speed and creative gusto of the backs. We need to start well. We need to start quickly. We are on the cusp of the ultimate goal. Top of the table. Into finals day without a loss. We can win. WE can win well!
The first half against Fylde saw key exchanges in the forwards and the backs of equal measure. The scrum was messy but seemed to initially go with the put in. There was some murmur that our normal slow start could hamper our progress as the attacking line of the Fylde backs took ball to hand and ran!
Today though it all changed. The cries from the touch line from our opponents supporters and coaches was muted as the Hoppers began to reel in the opposition. Excellent forward play at the rucks and mauls saw our opponents wanting. Could this be the day that we finally finish the jigsaw and see the picture of a good start by the boys as the result of all those months of hard, hard work both on and off the field?
As the forwards took the ball to contact, the scrum halves saw a quickly dispensed ball to their hand. The use of the rolling maul and the subsequent quick ball gave the opposition no option but to kick ball away or suffer the indignity of the cool collision with the defensive line. The blitz defence rose to the opponents like a Lancaster bomber to a newly built dam (I do recall actually humming the tune at one point!).
Hoppers win 21 points to Nill with George, Jak and Michael on the try count with Lincolns majestic boot to add the extras.
Ding Ding first round to Hoppers……
Seconds out round two ……Vale.
The Vale side were at best confident at worst overconfident that they would steal a win. They needed to in order to stay in the competition. The Hoppers boys would be playing their second game back to back. A new forward line and back line was used with the substitutes getting their game time.
This was the game that saw the boys come of age. Proof in the pudding that we are the most fortunate side in Lancashire with the strength in depth we have as a squad. Really we have the potential to put 2 or 3 sides every week with all the quality to shine against any opposition. As coaches we have to take our hats off to those boys (and parents) whom didn’t feature in the cup squad. They cheered and watched the games with the most amazing attitude and with their sights firmly on wanting; really wanting to be on the pitch next time. WE SALUTE YOU FOR YOUR ATTUTUDE AND SUPPORT; REST ASSURED THAT ALL OF THE PLACES ARE UP FOR GRABS SO READ THIS REPORT AS A REMINDER THAT THIS WEEK AT ORMSKIRK IS YOUR CHANCE TO CREATE PROBLEMS FOR THE SELECTORS.
The game opened with the initial tussles in the forwards being quite even. The scrum seems slightly less dominant perhaps due to fatigue or perhaps due the risks we knew that their backs could pose. This always seems to direct the mind to who to tackle next and getting to the breakdown faster. Just when it appeared to that pressure might give our opponents a chance to lead; we rang the changes. The changes worked.
The front row driving neatly forward had a new momentum. The backs chose to open the playbook and run through the channels (Just like we practiced??). Pressure leads to dominance and dominance leads to points. Again 21 OF THEM! Max C, Lincoln and Jak gave precious reward of 3 tries with Lincolns book appearing to be on auto dial to Johnny Wilkinson!
We had won. We had won well. We had topped the group without a single point against us. We led through excellent offensive play and quick controlled defence.
LANCASHIRE CUP FINALISTS, JUST A QUICK NOTE:
“We are coming to finals day and we are coming to WIN!”
If you don’t believe us read our group table and the results.
Our opponents as always were true ambassadors’ of the sport. We are sure that they will come back with their usual quality play and enthusiastic support. I think we can all agree that today “Rugby” was the winner and that the friendships the players have both at club and school level is a precious resource that is farmed by the way we play/coach/watch the beautiful game.
To say this was a complete performance was an understatement. Even the lure of one more match between greens and whites appeared too much for the boys to resist. Despite their fatigue and “humorous” exchanges this too showed some of the flair and clinical delivery of numerous tries (I lost count to be honest). The non-cup squad players began to stake their claim to feature in the tournament squad in 2/52. We know selection will be close to impossible.
Next week we see Ormskirk and the hope is that we will see the same again. The “Hutton” boys have to entertain a touring side and a number of others have school fixtures that will affect their attendance (Even if Luca is playing LEAGUE this week – Please don’t be judgmental !!). Aaron will bring his player of the week trophy for someone new to win. Who will it be? Who will push forward and stake their claim to the proceeding weeks cup squad…..
WHO ARE WE?