Former Preston Grasshoppers player and ex-director of rugby at Lightfoot Green writes every Friday for the Evening Post
Hoppers’ win on Saturday over fourth-placed Sandal capped a positive few days for the club.
Last Wednesday I attended a busy open meeting at Lightfoot Green hosted by the clubs Rugby Development Committee.
The committee outlined a number of areas where they feel improvements can be made – some building on current strengths, whilst also introducing initiatives designed to tackle certain problem areas.
Headed by former player, coach and all-round Hoppers legend Michael Lough, the plans the committee has to develop all aspects of rugby at the club are impressive and the benefits of their work is already being felt.
Increasing numbers of adult players – both male and female – mean that the club is running more adult teams than any club north of the Home Counties.
The mini-junior section remains one of the biggest and best in the country with more than 350 boys and girls now learning and enjoying the game at Lightfoot Green each week.
In addition, the support in terms of qualified coaches and volunteers has also seen a considerable increase in numbers, emphasising the community nature of the club.
Whilst I was director of rugby, we relied on developing our own young players who could handle the demands of National League rugby.
And whilst it was always a source of pride to see a young player come into the senior squad and begin their 1st XV career, it was also at times a frustration that players weren’t always further developed by the time they joined the senior ranks.
I was therefore heartened to hear of plans to establish a rugby academy at Lightfoot Green to support the retention and development of the 16 to 18 age group with a specific emphasis on preparing that age group for the demands of National League rugby.
This was part of a package of measures designed to strengthen the senior squad and the quality of player available to the senior coaching staff.
The club has been accused of lacking ambition at 1st XV level but I came away from the meeting enthused that there is real momentum building “behind closed doors” at Lightfoot Green and that good times across the club are just around the corner.
Momentum is also building on the pitch, as a second successive league victory was deservedly achieved against Sandal – despite a nervous final quarter to the game almost throwing a winning position away.
The team’s victory at Luctonians the previous Saturday seemed to have brought confidence to the ranks.
There was a noticeable bounce in the step as the team took the field with the home side quick out of the blocks.
Hoppers dominated the opening quarter with a solid set-piece and good interplay to the fore.
Tactically the team looked a lot more focused than in the previous home game against Otley.
The ever-improving Harrison Moulding had another impressive game at scrum-half and his game continues to develop as he gathers experience.
I thought the pack fronted up well given their youthfulness.
Saturday’s forward pack must have been one of the youngest Hoppers packs ever, with an average age for the front eight as a whole of just over 21.
That they lost their way a little at times is to be expected but the introduction of experience from the replacements bench – in the form of Messrs Dew and Holmes – was well timed and added the necessary nous at important times.
Given the above, it would seem almost churlish of me to be critical of any aspect of the performance.
But there was a key incident in the match that will serve as useful learning tool to this young side going forward.
At the 60-minute mark, Hoppers were 18-6 to the good with two tries on the board.
They were in control of the game and had the visitors at arm’s length on the scoreboard.
With a four-try bonus point in mind, a penalty was kicked to the corner with the opportunity for a catch and drive on offer to get a third try.
Unfortunately, impatience and a loss of focus squandered the opportunity.
No doubt during this week’s video review of the game it will have been highlighted that when you have the opposition where you want them, you do not give them an inch.
A third try at that stage would have finished the game.
From there it woul d have been all about Hoppers getting the fourth try and the bonus point to cap their display.
But that missed opportunity seemed to give the Yorkshire side renewed hope, something they fed upon to score two quick tries to bring the game level at 18 points apiece.
It is to Hoppers’ credit – and hopefully a sign of growing belief and maturity in the ranks - that they were able regather their focus and force a winning score.
That two of younger players, namely Luke Procter and John McKenzie were instrumental in creating and scoring the winning try will have been very satisfying for the coaches.
Hoppers are from the finished article but momentum appears to be building at Lightfoot Green – both on and off the field.