Hoppers back in the grooove

Phil Mills
Phil Mills
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Preston Grasshoppers recorded back-to-back home wins for the first time this season amid mounting evidence that the spring is back in their step.

“We have come on in leaps and bounds in recent weeks,” said head coach Garth Dew. “The attitude has completely turned round and the players are oozing confidence. I was really confident we could do a jobon Saturday and we did.”

If not the complete performance – there were too many turn-overs, for one thing – this was a solid all-round display, based on tremendous defence and a pack which is looking more forceful by the week.

“All the forwards were excellent,” said Dew.“But the backline defended well too. Our defence was the main thing that contributed to the win – there were some very physical shots going in.

“I would say we are the biggest hitters in the league.

“My only gripe is that we could have scored more tries. But all our hard work is starting to pay dividends.”

Hoppers set out their stall early – winning turn-over ball and shoving the Tigers off their first scrum put-in. They were unable to capitalise on a break by winger Scott Jordan and two 5m scrums, but a patient build-up from a line-out ended with hooker Phil Mills crashing over for a try converted by Lewis Allen.

Sedgley flly-half Steve Collins landed two penalties to Allen’s one to make it 10-6, but Allen responded with a 40m three-pointer in the first minute of the second half. Then one of the tries of the season took the hosts 12 points clear.

Centre Billy Woof instigated a break-out from his own half and some magical inter-passing between Jordan and centre Sam Russell took play deep into Sedgley territory, where Mills popped up on the outside to take the scoring pass.

The Tigers’ ball retention was as bad as the hosts’ and Preston skipper Phil Baines was almost away after a Sedgley attack broke down – moments after replacement flanker Will Lees had pulled off a superb cover tackle on Billy Emerson when he threatened to make Hoppers pay for a handling error of their own.

The home side lost a bit of momentum when Jordan was sinbinned for being careless with his boot at a maul.

But Allen kept the scoreboard moving with his third penalty and, restored to 15 men, Hoppers almost pulled off another sensational long-range try.

A trio of Preston players were involved in the pursuit of a ball hacked upfield, with Allen claiming the touchdown, but a consultation between referee Chris Bennett and his touchjudge saw it ruled out for a knock-on.

Disappointing Sedgley even managed to waste a big overlap as they tried to rescue something from the game, and Hoppers’ magnificent defensive work ensured they went home without a losing bonus point.

Flanker Andy Napier won the man-of-the-match award from sponsors Affinity Packaging, not least for his defensive efforts. But many others pushed him close on a day when the whole squad made major contributions, with Harry Reddick and Harry Moulding strongly advancing their claims.

“Moulding has a lot of potential and talent and had a massive impact off the bench,” said Dew.