Preston Grasshoppers head coach Garth Dew will resign at the end of the season after watching his side squander a 17-point lead to crash to another disastrous last-ditch defeat.
Luctonians’ “back from the dead” performance may not have hammered the final nail in Hoppers’ coffin as they battle to beat the drop from National Two North. But it certainly inflicted serious damage.
Dew, who has decided to give up his role along with Director of Rugby Alan Holmes, said: “This is the most despondent we’ve been in the dressing room.
“It is absolutely devastating. Luctonians upped the tempo in the second half and had more impact off the bench. Some of our players were out on their feet after 60 minutes – we didn’t look fit enough.”
It all looked so hopeful as Hoppers stormed into a 17-0 halftime lead, despite offering a vision of things to come when they were penalised three times in the first three minutes.
Once again, they were on top at the scrums and, for the second week in a row, were denied an early try because of a forward pass. But they got the scoreboard moving on 15 minutes, Ryan Glynn’s grubber kick bouncing nicely for Tom Hurst to score wide out. Lewis Allen converted and landed the second of two penalty attempts. When Luctonians’ scrum collapsed three times in succession on their own line, referee Llyr ApGeraint-Roberts inevitably awarded a penalty try, with Allen adding the extras. The visitors rang the changes after the break and what a difference it made! Winger Frank Kelly went over for an unconverted try after a tap penalty and although Allen responded with another penalty, Luctonians smuggled lock Stefan Psota over from close range, with Morris adding the extras.
Worse was to come when a line-out drive saw prop Joe White claim the touchdown, again converted by Morris, and the gap was down to one point with 20 minutes left.
Allen opted for a kick at goal rather than to the corner as Hoppers won a penalty at the end of a spell of sustained pressure. He claimed the three points, but some – although not his coach – questioned whether a line-out in the corner might have kept the pressure on and perhaps produced a game-clinching try.
A four-point margin always seemed too fragile, and so it proved when, in stoppage time, another line-out drive ended with an unconverted try by Jordan Street after the referee had consulted his touch judge – a decision which outraged Dew, who is not given to publicly criticising officials.
So Hoppers had to settle for a losing bonus point, which certainly should not have been the situation after their impressive first half.