Gareth Dyer's RU column

Former Preston Grasshoppers player and ex-director of rugby at Lightfoot Green writes every week for the Evening PostIt has been a testing opening month to the league season at Lightfoot Green.

In action for Preston Grasshoppers against Sedgley Park at Lightfoot Green
In action for Preston Grasshoppers against Sedgley Park at Lightfoot Green

A glance at the league table and a record of one victory from four games might make for disappointing reading.

But there are plenty of positives for the Hoppers coaches and players to take from their September showing.

I must admit when I saw the fixture list I thought the opening four games were as tough as they could be.

Relegated Wharfedale were being talked up for an immediate return to National One, whilst home games against Sedgley Park and Caldy are as tough as they come in this division.

Add in a trip to bogey side Chester and there were no freebies on offer.

The opening-day win at Wharfedale was a pleasing result with the coaches and the players getting their tactics spot on.

Whilst the opening month has confirmed that Wharfedale are perhaps not going to make that immediate return, nevertheless not many teams will come away from North Yorkshire with a win.

Sedgley Park were runners-up last term, missing out on promotion via a play-off.

They are a powerful outfit with the financial muscle to bring in the quick fixes who can hit the ground running.

There is no need for them to look long term. They are very much a side built for now and as a result, expectations should be high for them go one better this term.

Hoppers’ display against them fell between the promising and the frustrating.

Encouragement came in the form of three well-worked tries and a number of line breaks, whilst they were able to physically match the visitors for long periods.

Frustration would have come in allowing Sedgley to build a substantial lead through a mixture of indiscipline and soft defence which gave up territory and points too easily.

Slow starts have been an unwanted feature so far this campaign and an inability to get off the bus at Chester meant a game that should have been a highly competitive affair was gone before the half-time whistle.

Again last Saturday a slow start allowed Caldy to get a strong foothold in the game before the Lightfoot Green outfit had fired a shot in anger.

After a slow opening quarter, Hoppers dominated the next half-hour and drew the game level at 15-15, 10 minutes into the second half.

At that stage, with momentum on their side the home side had their opportunities to take the game.

However, a poorly-executed backs move led to a breakout by the quick Caldy backs who scored against the run of play.

This was clearly a hammer blow to the home side who were visibly rattled for the next 10 minutes and unable to batten down the hatches.

The visitors were able to take full advantage with a further score to take the game away from Hoppers.

Having regained their composure, Hoppers did strike back but ultimately missed out on bonus points for a fourth try and losing by less than seven.

This was a similar story against Sedgley and it could be argued that four bonus points have been missed out on from those two games.

But I remain positive about the progression that it is being made by the Lightfoot Green outfit.

Both the Sedgley and Caldy games were high quality affairs where this developing Hoppers outfit were able to trade blows with two sides who will be in the promotion make up come the end of the season.

If the Hoppers’ attacking game was a little blunt last term, this year the side seems full of attacking intent with 10 tries already registered and three tries scored against each of Whatfedale, Sedgley and Caldy.

New coach Jason Duffy is clearly having a positive influence on matters and getting the players to express themselves with ball in hand.

But the Hoppers coaches are acutely aware that balance on two fronts is missing at present.

Firstly, evolving an attacking ethos whilst developing another group of young players has to be balanced against good game management and the need to win games.

Game management is hard to coach.

A lot of it comes down to players feeling the game. Getting a lead by any means last Saturday when the home side were on top would have really put pressure on the visitors.

If the points were not going to come via a try, then an alternative means – such as a drop goal – needed to be thought about. There is a time for pragmatism, particularly when it comes to using the scoreboard to build pressure.

Secondly, at a tactical level the balance between last seasons dogged defensive organisation and the ambition to play a more confrontational attacking game will take time to settle.

The challenge to the players now is to take the September tempo and attaching verve into October.

If this can be balanced with a return of last season style defence, then there are opportunities to get wins on the board.