Preston Grasshoppers 27-20 Westoe
(Photo courtesy of Mick Craig)
Hoppers kept their 100% home record intact with over a Westoe side that were top of the league heading into the contest.
Head Coach Dave Baldwin was obviously happy with the win and performance but it’s encouraging to see he wasn’t totally satisfied in spite of the win saying; “of course we would have taken four points before the game but we should have had five as it would have been a great statement to make to the rest of the league. But it’s a good performance and shows what we can do.”
It didn’t go all Hoppers way and they again found themselves trailing early as the set pieces struggled early against a physical Westoe pack. Two penalties in quick succession were then advanced ten metres into the 22 and Number 8 Oliver Steadman, who was taking the kicking duties in place of the absent Mike Bedworth, gave Westoe the lead. It got better from the visitors as they benefited from some poor tackling to launch and impressive counter attack with Dan Rundle rounding off the move, Steadman added the extras and Westoe were 10-0 ahead inside ten minutes.
With Hoppers reeling from an early onslaught they needed something to spark them into life; it came with a turnover on half way and a forceful carry from Dominic Moon, and after Westoe had given away a penalty scrum half Nathan Fowles was alert to the situation to take a quick tap and scamper in to score in the corner, Graham Holroyd was successful from out wide and Hoppers were right back in the contest.
Midway through the half Hoppers took the lead with a superb set play. Hoppers scrum had found its way and provided a solid platform on the 22, Moon and Fowles combined well and clever work from Holroyd put Sean Taylor in to a huge gap and he found Tom Hughes on his inside shoulder for the score.
Holroyd was able to stretch the lead with two penalties as Hoppers were growing in confidence and dominating the game and they were rewarded with their third try before half time. Again the were able to capitalise on a turnover in midfield and Fowles spotted the huge gap behind the defence on the wing, he kicked through at Matt Hughes collected the ball and backed his pace to sprint past the covering Westoe players with ease, Holroyd was again successful in a fine kicking display to take Hoppers in to the break with a 27-10 lead.
In truth Hoppers could, and possibly should, have scored more with Matt Hughes crossing the line on two occasions only for play to be brought back, first for a dubious forward pass following a great Hoppers counter and then for offside after a perfectly weighted cross kick in the second half.
Even though Hoppers were unable to score in the second half there was plenty of good work to be impressed with, especially in defence. After losing Holroyd for ten minutes when the fly half was sin binned Hoppers did not concede a point even though the offence came with Westoe just five metres from the line. Excellent organisation and some wonderful tackling, none better than Fowles superb last ditch tackle to not only stop a try but win a penalty, kept Westoe out for the majority of the half, they did concede two late tries as Steadman touched down at the back of a well worked rolling maul and the number 8 crossed again from close range after a penalty was reversed allowing the visitors to kick to the corner and claim a losing bonus point.
Once again there were excellent individual performances to take away from the game, the half back pairing is improving with every game and the forwards really upped their game against a physical side. There still needs to be work done on some areas but signs as definitely pointing to not only a positive season but an attractive brand of rugby that will be a challenge for any team in the league to stop.
The images below appear courtesy of Mick Craig.