Preston Grasshoppers RUFC crashed to their third defeat in four home games 20-19 when Birmingham/Solihull fly-half Adam Canning kicked a touchline penalty…in the 10th minute of second-half stoppage time.
Referee Jack Makepeace’s extra time – which matched the 10 minutes he also added on in the first half – was just one of the day’s puzzles, especially for those of us with stopwatches.
Another clubhouse debating point was the unsatisfactory reversion to uncontested scrums after the visitors lost both their props to injury before the end of the first period, nullifying a scrum advantage which Hoppers seemed to be building.
But the biggest mystery of all was Preston’s inability to put away a side which was reduced to 13 men for one spell and 14 for the whole of the second half.
Hoppers head coach Garth Dew readily admitted that they had thrown away a glorious opportunity.
“It looked like we were going to wipe the floor with them – I can’t believe we lost that game,” he said.
“It took us 10 minutes to get going but it should have been a 40-point win. But we made the mistakes, some of which were unforgiveable, gave penalties away and lost control of ourselves.”
There were no worse instances than in a few minutes either side of half-time.
Firstly, Hoppers, leading 19-3, threw out an intercepted pass on halfway, allowing Canning to race in for a try which he converted.
Then, soon after the break, lock Ally Murray elected to pass with the line at his mercy only metres away following fine work by Lewis Allen and Phil Mills.
Birmingham fly-half Olly Carter went off with a shoulder injury inside five minutes, but the visitors got on the board with a simple Canning penalty.
But they fought their way back into contention and scrum-half Sam Whyte almost messed up a blindside chance with a man outside him but just managed to get the touchdown.
The Bees’ lock Liam Dunne was sin-binned for illegally halting a Preston line-out drive and within a couple of minutes prop Nick Bingham joined him as Hoppers’ rampant pack went for a pushover from a five-metre scrum.
Referee Makepeace awarded them a penalty try, which Allen converted, as he did centre Billy Woof’s try two minutes later.
But they allowed the 13-man visitors back into the game with that needless interception try and compounded the error with Murray’s missed opportunity.
With uncontested scrums throughout the second half, Birmingham/Solihull were able to throw on some speedy backs to keep Hoppers pegged back.
Despite a great defensive effort – and missed penalties and drop goals by the visitors – their lead was cut to just two points when winger Jimmy Oliver capitalised on a great break by replacement Aquile Smith, Canning again converting.
Another 25 minutes of extended agony ensued until the almost inevitable outcome, Canning’s last-gasp winner.
Elsewhere, Vale of Lune moved up to joint fourth in North One West with an all-action 33-23 victory over New Brighton.
In a game of contrasting styles, the visitors took the forward option, while Vale relied on their pace and ability to keep the ball moving.