Well what a week. Hoppers made a statement of intent with a big win on the road whilst a former Hopper and Hutton Grammar School product was “named” as the new England forwards coach.
And with this weekend being the final round of league fixtures in National Two North in 2015 – with a Christmas “derby” game against Sedgley Park at Lightfoot Green –there is much to get stuck into!
I will come onto Hoppers shortly but it has been a big week for Steve Borthwick, who looks set to join Eddie Jones’ backroom team at Twickenham, although there is still confusion surrounding his appointment with his current club Bristol refusing to accept his resignation.
They are playing hardball with the RFU, but I imagine Steve will eventually become part of the England set-up.
I was lucky to play with Steve at both Hutton and Hoppers. I was in the Upper Sixth form at the school when Steve broke into the 1st XV whilst still a 5th former. It was clear then that he was a special talent – not only in the way he played but the way he prepared for games and thought about what was happening on the field.
I am glad that my erratic lineout throwing during our formative years played some small part in helping him to hone his lineout skills to such a high level!
Even at the age of 16 Steve had a professional approach. He trained before school and whilst others were tempted by trips to the pub on a weekend, Steve was teetotal and dedicated to his rugby and his studies.
His appetite for hard work was evident and it is something he became renowned for during his time as a player for Bath, Saracens and England.
It is no surprise that he has moved into coaching following his playing career. He is meticulous and a deep thinker about the game.
His input into the success Japan achieved at the Rugby World Cup was bound to make him a candidate for bigger jobs. All I can say is that I hope he is treated better by England this time around. I felt he was almost hung out to dry by the England hierarchy as they went through a rebuilding phase post the 2007 World Cup.
Whether player or a captain, Steve has always put the needs of the team before his own. This was perhaps to his detriment - particularly when he altered his own playing style whilst captain of England to try and cover the team’s shortcomings in other departments.
As a result he was criticised for not being a powerful ball carrier when anyone who watched Steve play over the years knew that he was a “footballing” second row defined by a high work rate and supreme in the lineout.
Quite simply, England didn’t get the best out of him as a player and then treated him shabbily by dropping him as a player and captain when the side’s performances dipped with a rebuilt team. That they did this when he was injured spoke volumes about the weakness of the off field leadership he had to deal with during his tenure.
Whilst I am a passionate Wales fan I really hope Steve succeeds in his role with England. He is a humble guy who regularly comes back to Hutton to speak with the students. He is one of the game’s good guys.
Meanwhile, Hoppers had a superb 32-6 win last Saturday at Huddersfield in conditions more suited to a game of water polo.
Beforehand it was tagged as a “must win” game – particularly by the West Yorkshire side, who were desperate to close the gap on Hoppers and drag them into the scrap at the foot of the table.
That pressure was clearly too much for the home side as the visitors won well and added a try bonus point to put the icing on the cake.
In recent weeks Hoppers had lost two wet weather games against Otley and Harrogate where they were tactically naïve but to the delight of the coaches and travelling supporters it appears lessons were learnt by the players and that is all you can ask for from this young team.
From a coaching perspective the most satisfying wins often come when you see the team deliver on the field what you’ve worked on in training and the completeness of the win must provide confidence ahead of this Saturday’s Lancashire derby.
Hoppers to make three changes
After the disruption of the last fortnight, the last weekend of league rugby before the Christmas break is scheduled (weather permitting) as a day of local derbies, with Preston Grasshoppers at home to Sedgley Park, Vale of Lune hosting Kendal and Fylde travelling to Wharfedale.
Buoyed by their handsome win at Huddersfield last Saturday, Hoppers are forced into three changes. Harry Moulding suffered a shoulder injury last week so Sam Whyte is at scrum-half, while Ollie Viney returns on the wing for Jonny Milliken, who is away. Christian Taylor, named man-of-the-match after coming on as an early sub for the injured Alan Holmes, starts at hooker.
Sedgley Park come to Lightfoot Green in second place in National League Two North, eight points behind leaders Macclesfield.
Fans at Lightfoot Green are invited to wear Santa hats tomorrow and donate £1 to the “Joining Jack” charity supported by England star Owen Farrell after the son of a former Wigan colleague was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.
In North One West, both Vale and Kendal are on a run of four successive victories. Vale will select the starting line-up from a squad of 18, which includes lock James Robinson, who is home from university. He will take over from Alex Baines, who is unavailable. Michael Forrest is among the nine backs from whom the starting XV is chosen.
Fylde are 10th following five victories, a draw and seven defeats. Greg Nicholls, unavailable last week, starts at scrum-half and Alex Loney, now a member of the coaching team, is at hooker.
l Although their league fixtures do not resume until January 2, Hoppers stage their now-traditional charity game on Boxing Day, awarded this year to Chris Johnson.
Chris retired from coaching at the end of last season having coached Hoppers mini/junior sides to a record 10 Lancashire Cup titles. That makes him the most successful coach in the history of Preston Grasshoppers Mini/Juniors.
A Chris Johnson XV, made up of players he coached through the years, will take on a Hoppers XV. Kick-off is scheduled for noon. Admission is £5, with all proceeds going to Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Hoppers: S Taylor; Jordan, Woof, Ward, Viney; M Murray, Whyte; Madden, C Taylor, Altham, McKenzie, A Murray, Napier, Lees, Proctor. Replacements (from): Holmes, Tuff, Mabaya, Dew, Tomlinson, Forster, Zavallis-Roebuck.
Vale (from): Owens, Birchall, Higgin, Dorrington, Crookall, Bird, Forrest, Macluskie, Dobson; Cowey, D Baines, Pillow, Yates, Foxcroft, Robinson, Powers, Ayrton, S Wallbank.
Fylde: Dorrington; Bingham, Briers, S Rawlings, Brennand; Johnson, Nicholls; Birchall, Loney, Lewis, Gray, G Rawlings, Goodman, Stewart, Fairbrother. Replacements: Lavelle, Mills, Moon, Spragg, de la Harpe.