Preston Grasshoppers 17 Leicester Lions 20
Despite leading three times, Preston Grasshoppers fell to a second successive narrow defeat in this rescheduled National League Two North clash.
Harry Moulding’s failure to recover from injury brought a late reshuffle, with centre Billy Woof switching to the unfamiliar role of scrum-half, while Harry Reddick came in at centre and young Kane Bevan joined the replacements.
“We still had a good team and plenty of chances to win,” said head coach Garth Dew.
“But we weren’t getting into our patterns and towards the end we were not fit enough.
“We were a bit off the pace and Leicester began winning turnover ball at the breakdown.
“They were a little more physical and streetwise and we panicked a bit. But we had enough possession and territory to have built a good lead.
“However, a close game against the side fourth in the league shows we are not far off and there is a lot of impact waiting to come back into the side.”
Dew said it was testament to Woof that he performed so well in the circumstances, praised young lock Sam Gale for his impact off the bench and particularly picked out the great all-round work of flanker Will Lees in defence and attack – “he is the stand-out player every week.”
The home pack started in tremendous style, wreaking havoc at every first-half scrum and sparking some good driving mauls.
But they lost that edge later on – a turn-round attributed by the coach to an injury to prop Peter Altham, which necessitated John Peterson having to switch to the other side of the scrum.
Thereafter, Leicester steadied the ship somewhat.
Altham had been hurt in the process of scoring Hoppers’ second try – out wide after a fine cut-out pass from Ally Murray.
Sean Taylor’s conversion took the hosts into a 17-10 lead with half-an-hour left.
But they could not hold out, Lions centre Luke Veebel slicing through for a try under the posts, converted by Jon Boden, who added what proved the winning penalty on the hour.
Agonisingly, that proved the final score, although both sides had dangerous spells on the offensive.
Earlier, Taylor had kicked one of two penalties in the first six minutes.
But when the full-back was tackled behind his own line, Hoppers were penalised at the resulting five-metre scrum and back-row forward Joe Collingham charged over for an unconverted try from a quick tap.
Taylor was soon in action again with a try-saving tackle in the corner after a 50-metre sprint by speedy winger Sam Benjamin.
And then at the other end he added the conversion to a pushover try by No.8 Luke Proctor which came when Preston’s then-dominant pack opted for a scrum under the posts after Lions’ Matt Tuckey was sin-binned for killing a drive to the line.
Hoppers’ 10-5 half-time lead was short-lived, Leicester prop Ben Pokes being driven over from close range three minutes after the restart.
Boden again missed the conversion and the hosts hit back quickly with Altham’s try.
But, after being awarded nine first-half penalties by referee Hamish Smales, Hoppers won only two after the break and were unable to maintain the momentum they had gained previously.
So the first of three successive home games brought only a losing bonus point, but Hoppers remain in the top half of the table… just.