Gareth Dyer’s exclusive rugby union column

Hoppers coach Garth Dew
Hoppers coach Garth Dew
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Preston Grasshoppers’ disappointing defeat to Otley at Lightfoot Green last Saturday needs to serve as a wake-up call if this season is to get back on track.

It was a naive display from the home side on a wet and windy afternoon, when the weather conditions ruled and scoring chances were few and far between.

Yet despite it being a day for pragmatism rather than risk taking – a message that the coaches had clearly tried to get across also according to the post match comments – the home side incorrectly wanted to play from their own half and then overplay with the ball in hand.

If ever there was a day for grinding out a win then last Saturday was it and it shouldn’t need the coaches or anyone else to tell players at National League level how to play in wet conditions.

Poor indiscipline, dropped passes, numerous knock-ons, silly offloads, over ambitious lineouts and too much general impatient build up play all too often prevented the home side from building pressure and allowed the visitors to soak up the home side’s attacks – particularly in the first half when they had the best of the weather conditions behind them.

And when doing their video review this week, the home side won’t have to look too far as to find how to manage such conditions as the visitors gave them a lesson in wet weather game management.

The Yorkshire side played for territory, kept their set piece options simple and used their aggressive pack to pick and drive and maul to good effect. They were patient in possession and disciplined in defence.

They bided their time until the right opportunities to strike presented themselves and made sure that when they did, they did not let the home side off the hook.

In scrum half Steven Depledge they had the game’s major influence.

The Otley scrum half is a canny operator and he brought his experience to bear on proceedings. He kept his team playing in the right areas and cajoled, rallied and organised his troops to make sure they kept control of the game – particularly after they had wrestled the initiative away from the home side at the start of the second half.

Once they were in front on the score board they didn’t give Hoppers a sniff by penning the home side back in their own third of the pitch for long periods.

The Lightfoot Green side just could not lift the siege despite a very tidy display from their own scrum half Harrison Moulding, whose superb defensive kicking often cleared the danger.

But the authority of his opposite number, the physicality of the visiting pack and the visitors’ collective respect of how to play the game in the prevailing conditions ensured that the points headed back across the Pennines.

In fact it took until the game was lost for the home forwards to start to carry the ball with any intensity.

They started to make the hard yards and as a spectator you started to wonder as to what might have been. However it was all too little, too late.

Knowing most of the lads involved last week I know they will be hurting more than anyone about the result.

When you are at the thick end of things, what happens on a Saturday afternoon shapes your mood for the whole of the following week.

After a defeat on a Saturday, it is the first thing you think about when you wake up on a Sunday morning and you then carry it around for seven days until you get the chance to atone.

I have said it before, the standard of National Two rugby gets harder with every season.

There are no easy games anymore and sides have to earn the right to win.

I have often questioned whether the players are students of the game they play. That they actually devote time to understanding the tactics and game management that shapes the way the game is played and officiated.

Given the continued number of close defeats and Saturday’s collective inability to understand the required approach, it would seem that the lads are not spending enough of their own time learning the game.

There is only so much that can come from the sidelines in terms of preparation.

It is not easy for me to be critical of the lads as they are friends who I want to see do well. But they have to start showing a greater collective tactical maturity than was evident against Otley.