Preston Grasshoppers 32, Sheffield Tigers 21
Lewis Allen's immaculate kicking from the tee helped Preston Grasshoppers to recover from another shaky start and record their third win of the season.
Allen, playing at centre due to injuries, landed all eight of his kicks – six of them penalties – as Hoppers hit back from 3-14 down after the first quarter to claim 29 unanswered points before a late penalty try for Sheffield Tigers added a little gloss to the scoreline.
Despite the early setback, this was a much-improved Preston performance which had head coach Garth Dew enthusing: “We managed the game really well, showed the right mentality and were very patient when we got in the red zone.
“I was a bit nervous after the first 20 minutes, but we got off the line well in defence, put in some big shots and forced a lot of turnovers – although we took some wrong options after we had done so.
“Apart from one defensive blip, we showed a lot of character, while our scrum won us a lot of penalties. Oga Mabaya has turned into a very good scrummager.
And it helps when you’ve got a 100 per cent kicker; Lewis has been working very hard on his kicking and I like the look of him at No 12.”
As ever this season, it wasn’t plain sailing for Hoppers.
Tigers’ fly-half Angus Bowyer and Allen slotted early penalties – with the visiting kicker landing three to Hoppers’ one – before, from their own half, the Tigers backs found acres of space out wide to send Henri Packard over for an unconverted try.
But that seemed to galvanise the hosts, who clawed their way onto a 16-14 half-time lead thanks to two Allen penalties and his conversion of a try by man-of-the-match Phil Mills, the hooker getting the touchdown after a scrum pick-up and drive by No 8 Luke Proctor.
The only blot on the comeback was a shoulder injury to winger Connor Trueman.
As Sheffield collected two yellow cards in the third quarter due to serious pressure on their defence, Allen landed three more penalties, the last of them following a fine break by scrum-half Jack Harrison.
Hoppers sealed the much-needed win with 10 minutes left when more sustained pressure and good handling saw fly-half Will Hunt just reach the line. Allen, inevitably, converted, but the Tigers had the final say when a series of scrums on the home line ended with a yellow card for replacement prop John Peterson and, at the next put-in, the award of a penalty try converted by Mike Aspinall with the last kick of an entertaining game. Dew was delighted that his side has come through a run of difficult games with a number of narrow defeats. “I’m pleased we managed the game so well and won the little battles,” he said.
The line-out still needs a bit of work, with a couple of lost balls and a couple of wonky throw-ins disrupting Hoppers’ momentum from time to time. But at least they ended their three-match losing run to record only their second victory in the last 10 games.
They remain third from bottom of National League Two North, but have closed the gap on a couple of the sides just above them.