Hoppers humbled by Harrogate

Hooker Phil Mills injured his ear
Hooker Phil Mills injured his ear
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Preston Grasshoppers 15 Harrogate 25

Hoppers produced one of their most disappointing performances of a difficult season to remain stuck in the bottom third of National League Two North with just six games left.

Head coach Michael Lough did not beat about the bush over his team’s display.

“We were made to look average,” he said. “We didn’t defend at all well, letting people step inside us – one of the basic mistakes in rugby.

“We had enough possession but were lacking the killer instinct. The spark didn’t seem to be quite there right from the warm-up.

“We had some hard words at half-time, which made a bit of a difference but at the end we asked the team, ‘Are we just going to drift for the rest of the season or do something about it and finish on a high?’ We can play so much better than that.”

The game started badly for Hoppers when they lost hooker Phil Mills early on with a bad ear injury.

That certainly seemed to affect their line-out as three times in the course of the game, they kicked penalties to the corner but lost the subsequent line-out when all seemed set for try-scoring catch and drives which could have made all the difference.

Preston did take a ninth-minute lead when Craig Aikman broke brightly from a scrum and linked well with Sean Taylor to send winger Conor Trueman over for a try, converted by Lloyd Davies.

Those were the only points they could manage for the next 50 minutes, though, as Harrogate man-of-the-match Callum Irvine and centre Sam Bottomley constantly created disarray in the home midfield.

The first such instance produced a try for full-back Lewis Minikin, while another saw scrum-half Danny Matthews set free for a 50-metre dash to the line.

In between, Irvine dropped a cheeky goal while Joe Rowntree converted the second touchdown for a 15-7 half-time lead.

Hoppers rang the changes from the bench around the break in an attempt to try to make something work for them but, even with Harrogate prop Will Dutton in the sin bin, all they could muster was a Davies penalty.

But that was quickly cancelled out by Rowntree from in front of the sticks and, after Davies missed a long-range penalty, another piece of nifty footwork by Irvine saw him dance over unchallenged from near halfway, Rowntree’s conversion taking the visitors 15 points clear.

Hoppers kept on battling and an excellent break by Davies took them right to the line, from where replacement forward Luke Proctor crashed over in the corner.

Davies could not convert with the last kick of the game and Hoppers were left to lick their wounds and contemplate the “really basic things” which Lough admitted they could have done so much better.

Few players enhanced their reputations on the day but the coach felt the scrum was “pretty solid” and substitute scrum-half Sam Whyte controlled the game well in the second half.

Thankfully, Hoppers remain 20 points clear of the relegation zone.

But there will certainly be more hard words before next week’s home date with Hull.