Preston Grasshoppers 34 Stockport 7
A sleet-storm greeted the second half of this National League Two North clash – and heralded a blizzard of points from Preston Grasshoppers to end a run of five successive defeats and edge them up the table.
Playing into a bitter howling gale before the break, Hoppers turned round 7-5 in arrears.
But five tries and 29 unanswered points brought them their first bonus-point victory since November.
“That’s a huge weight off everyone’s shoulders,” said head coach Garth Dew.
“It was tough playing into the wind but I was quite happy at half-time, although we had been a bit lazy at times and our line speed wasn’t good enough.
“It was a big moment when we shut them out at the end of the first half and I knew the floodgates could open for us after the break.
“We started enjoying the game more and played some good rugby.
“Our pack was back on top and worked really hard.”
In an uninspiring first half, it was half-an-hour before Hoppers won their first penalty from referee Michael Harris, who had penalised them half-a-dozen times by then. But they were already 5-0 up thanks to a try by winger Scott Jordan, who just made it to the line after a fine break and well-timed pass by full-back Mark Murray.
Hoppers’ kicking game into the wind was not clever enough, putting them on the back foot for long spells, and, once again, their precision let them down when Stockport winger Chris Tennuci picked off Jordan’s offload to race half the length of the field for a shock try, converted by Ashley Platt-Hughes.
Hoppers decided to shuffle their backline at half-time, bringing Lewis Allen on at fly-half and switching Alex Zavallis-Roebuck to centre.
“It was the perfect type of game for Lewis,” said Dew. “And he pulled the strings well and showed some good touches.”
But it was the impressive forwards who initially seized the initiative from the visitors, an unstoppable 40-metre driving maul bringing a touchdown for Andy Napier to reclaim the lead. It was mostly one-way traffic thereafter.
Murray sealed his man-of-the-match award with another break that sent Allen over for a try which he himself converted.
“Mark has worked hard to get in shape and he looks a different player, with some really nice touches,” said Dew.
Hoppers failed to capitalise on a powerful burst by centre Sam Russell but soon had the scoreboard moving again after a huge scrum drive opened up room for scrum-half Sam Kindred to nip over and secure the four-try bonus point.
With Tennucci in the sin-bin, Preston turned the screw via another powerful forward surge which saw lock Jack Banks claim the fifth touchdown.
Allen missed both conversions but added the extras to a stoppage-time try for Jordan, once again benefitting from Murray’s clinical eye for the offload.
The much-needed victory takes Hoppers to 12th place, although they are still only four points outside the relegation zone.
But things are quite congested below the halfway point in the table and at least the smiles – albeit frozen by the weather – were back in the clubhouse this weekend.