Preston Grasshoppers 40 Stourbridge 34: Hoppers win after ding-dong battle
A ding-dong tussle saw the hosts 12 points up after six minutes, before Stourbridge hit back strongly, then fell 15 points behind, mounted another comeback and got to within a point as stoppage time loomed.
In the end, the visitors had to settle for two bonus points in a game which might easily have got away from Hoppers.
Head coach Paul Arnold, who came on for the final 10 minutes in the last game of an illustrious playing career, said: “I told them we didn’t want to turn it into a game of Sevens , to keep it tight and take the points – but they didn’t listen to me!
”They lost their heads a bit, so I had to come on a little earlier than I intended to calm them down and grind out the win. But having said that, we’d have lost that game at the start of the season.”
Hoppers’ cause wasn’t helped when influential scrum-half James Gough ruptured his Achilles in the warm-up, so Will Davidson was drafted in to partner his brother Tom at half-back. “Coming in at the 11th hour, Will had a good game,” said Arnold.
Despite the disruption, Hoppers got off to a flyer. A Matt Lamprey charge and good pressure by James Fitzpatrick forced the position from which Tyler Spence raced over for his 16th try of the season after 75 seconds. Tom Davidson converted, then added an unconverted try after strong work by Lamprey and Adam Howard.
If it all looked too easy, Stourbridge had other ideas and took the lead in the next seven minutes with tries by No 8 Nigel Mukarati and winger Dan Rundle, both converted by Chris Scott.
The lead immediately changed hands again when Lamprey barged over from a five-metre scrum for his 14th try of the campaign, converted by Davidson. As the hectic pace continued, Scott dropped a goal but Hoppers claimed a 29-17 lead at the break with a close-range try by Ollie Tripper and a conversion and further penalty by Davidson.
As Trippier was going over, a punch-up was developing under the posts, which turned into a mass brawl before Stourbridge prop Mark George was sinbinned for the high tackle which started it.
Perhaps it was expecting too much for the excitements of the first half to continue after the break; but the second period was certainly a less entertaining affair, despite plenty more points.
Davidson, who had by now topped 200 points for the season, landed an early penalty, to which Scott replied in kind. But when Hoppers lost hooker Paul Millea to injury and prop Pete Altham to the sinbin, the Stourbridge pack – which had looked one of the more impressive to visit Preston all season – started to exert control.
A penalty try to the visitors was almost inevitable after a series of scrums and penalties in the “red zone” and, despite another Davidson penalty, Stourbridge brought the score to 35-34 when former Hoppers lock Chris Roddy crashed over and Scott converted.
Deep into stoppage time, Davidson missed a penalty but, with Arnold in the fray to calm things down, the home side summoned one last effort and gave Connor Treuman a rare bit of space on the right wing for an unconverted try and a seventh win in their last eight games.