Preston Grasshoppers 39 Sheffield Tigers 41: Hoppers suffer late defeat
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“We did so many good things against a decent side,” said director of rugby Alex Keay but, once again, his side fell foul of their inability to close out tight finishes.
“It’s a simple process,” said Keay. “Don’t give soft penalties and make sure you secure the restart (after a late score) and get the ball off the park – but we keep digging holes for ourselves.”
However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom as Keay added: “When we stay on task, on message, we’re really good. I feel we’ll get there.”
It was a feeling that looked justified for much of a game in which Hoppers kept their noses in front for long periods, even though their lead was never more than eight points.
They looked to have banked all five points when Will Hunt landed a 45-metre penalty two minutes into stoppage time.
However, their failure to secure possession gave the Tigers one last chance and they battered incessantly at the home line until centre Barney Goatley crashed over to complete an impressive hat-trick.
That left fly-half Mark Ireland with a tricky conversion to win the game, but, having proved infallible from the tee with four previous conversions and two penalties, it was almost inevitable that he would nail it to bring despair to the home fans.
Tigers’ other tries fell to flanker Josh Redfern and hooker Will Archer.
On the credit side for Hoppers, lock Ellis Causey did great work at the lineout, hooker Jack Wilkinson bagged a brace of tries from well-worked lineout drives, prop Tom Guest put in one storming break worthy of any centre and debutant scrum-half Rory Brand impressed off the bench in the second half.
Hoppers’ man of the match, Josh Longson, rounded off a powerful back-row performance with one of the five tries.
Hunt and full-back Jacob Browne combined for a touchdown apiece with the fly-half adding four conversions and two penalties.
Ultimately, Hoppers fell agonisingly short to find themselves next to bottom of National Two North and facing successive away fixtures in the next two weeks.