Former Preston Grasshoppers player and ex-director of rugby at Lightfoot Green writes every week for the Evening Post
For those regular readers of my column you may be forgiven for thinking that I have copied one of last season’s articles to fill this week.
For yet again it’s about one that got away as Hoppers came up short last Saturday at Yorkshire rivals Otley – this despite being in control of a match as it entered its final, defining stages.
But despite having repeat possession in the Otley 22 and with the home team mindful not to give away a kickable penalty and with it the ball game, Hoppers let them off the hook through inaccurate decision making when they should have put the game away.
How many times could that have been said about the Lightfoot Green side over the last couple of seasons?
By my reckoning, in this calendar year alone Hoppers have missed out in half-a-dozen games at the death where the winning of the game was firmly within their control.
The January matches with Caldy and particularly Sale FC, quickly came to mind after the final whistle on Saturday – such was the similarity in how those games ended with Hoppers in the shadow of the home side’s posts, looking for five points when three would have done just as nicely.
It is also the second week running where that lack of pragmatism might just have cost them winning league points.
At Scunthorpe the week before, Hoppers rallied in the second half to get within a point of the hosts whilst dominating territory and possession as the clock ticked down.
By all accounts, Hoppers were in control and battering away at a home defence that refused to yield.
The sucker punch last week was to allow the home side to break out and score a decisive try whilst trying to create a try opening of their own.
Whilst that was unfortunate, it was to be hoped that the experience might just have expanded the players’ minds to the idea that there is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat.
In darts there is a saying – trebles for show, doubles for dough.
Coined by the legendary Bobby George, it reminds us that hitting a double at the end is what wins the game.
Hitting the eye-catching trebles might get the crowd on their feet but they aren’t worth a jot if you don’t nail the money shot.
Now, I am not sure if there are any poets in the Hoppers dressing room but stealing Bobby’s phrase and adapting it to – tries for show, points for dough – might be as good a way as any to remind the players that it’s about nailing those key decisions when trying to get over the line in tight games.
Games between Otley and Hoppers have generally been tight affairs over the years with both clubs probably seeing each other as a good benchmark against which to measure their own standing.
So with both clubs having got off to stuttering starts this campaign, the large travelling faithful were once again anticipating a tight contest as they travelled over the hill.
And they were rewarded for their efforts with another curate’s egg of a performance from the Lightfoot Green outfit.
Hoppers again looked full of invention in attack, particularly in a first half that brought two nice tries and plenty of line breaks that could have brought more.
The set-piece – save for one important re-start error just before half time – was a secure source of possession with the scrum particularly dominant.
But they were also guilty of standing off the home side and allowing them to too often make easy metres with the visitors’ line speed in defence far too slow.
Several times the home side were able to make 40 to 50 metres in attack from only four or five attacking phases such was the space they were able to exploit between the two lines.
Coaches often look at little things, such as players work-rate off the ball and their speed to get back into position, as performance indicators.
Unfortunately, at times last Saturday, too many players lacked the required urgency in these two areas – particularly in defence.
Otley – for their part – almost struggled with the attacking hinterland granted to them, becoming guilty of overplaying too early in the phase count, such was their love for the available wide open space.
And in the end it should have proved their undoing.
Having built a 20-13 lead with 15 minutes to play, they started to play from deep and invited pressure which led to a Hoppers try – a real vintage, classy effort from Olly Viney – and with it surrendered momentum to the visitors.
Twice Hoppers had clean possession in the Otley 22 as the clock ran down. Twice they were in the shadow of the home posts.
Twice the visiting supporters awaited the defining coup de grace to be applied via a drop goal. Twice the option was turned down in favour of going for a try.
On reflection, a case of a try for show but a kick for dough.