Preston Grasshoppers bounced back in style after the disaster of the previous Saturday to record their biggest league win in almost a year and a half.
Such a result looked anything but likely when Leicester Lions went seven points up in as many minutes, threatening to spoil the party at the hosts’ 145th anniversary celebrations, attended by a packed clubhouse.
But Hoppers responded with 38 unanswered points before the visitors notched their second try in the last quarter, and even then Preston had the last word with a fifth touchdown in the dying moments.
“It is a special day for the club,” said head coach Garth Dew, “and we really fed off it. It was a real 80-minute performance and we completely wiped the floor with what is not a bad Lions team, making them look average.
“We didn’t show the players the video of last week’s game, but worked on things like our kick/chase and ball presentation. We needed to understand better what to do in certain situations and our message before the game was about confidence.
“We made a few changes to the team and everyone was raring to go, with those who came off the bench making a big contribution. It’s been a difficult time for the first-team squad lately but we were much more relaxed, even though I was a bit worried after their first try. After that, they didn’t look in the game at all. But for the uncontested scums, that would have been the result last week too.”
Three early penalties against Hoppers put them on the back foot and, despite good defence on the line, they couldn’t stop No 8 Ron Young blasting over. Rory Lynn converted, but it took Preston only eight minutes to take the lead. Lewis Allen put over a tricky penalty after great attacking work by hooker Phil Mills, then recalled winger Matt Gargett split the defence on a diagonal burst for a try which Allen converted.
And it was the fly-half who set up the second touchdown, his interception and long run producing a penalty against Leicester at the tackle, from which Hoppers worked the ball left and right before full-back John Embleton just made the line.
Allen converted and, after a spell of great defence prevented the Lions from even crossing Hoppers’ 22, he added a touchline penalty for a 20-7 half-time lead.
It took just 40 seconds of the second period for another home score – Embleton making a splendid pick-up at pace, after Leicester spilled a high ball, and feeding Mills who had Pete Altham in support. The prop successfully backed himself to make the line and Allen again converted.
He added two more penalties, the second of which accompanied a yellow card for hooker Ollie Taylor as the Lions desperately tried to stop a 30-metre driving maul.
Hoppers’ pack was rampant, particularly against the weakened scrum, and man-of-the-match Chris Taylor was able to charge through unhindered after picking up at the back of a scrum on the 22 for an unconverted bonus-point try
Substitutions seemed to upset Preston’s shape momentarily and centre Nathan Donnachie went over in the corner, with Lynn converting, but replacement full-back Tom Hurst sealed a fine win with a well-constructed try, goaled by Allen for a personal haul of 20 points.