Hoppers show fighting spirit

Alex Zavallis-Roebuck drew praise from his coach
Alex Zavallis-Roebuck drew praise from his coach
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Preston Grasshoppers 29 South Leicester 29

Two tries in the last five minutes from full-back Sean Taylor crowned a splendid fightback by Hoppers to snatch a draw after South Leicester had looked to be powering to victory.

Hoppers head coach Garth Dew said: “The lads showed fantastic spirit and great endeavour. That was a really impressive comeback.

“It was looking grim for us but we stuck to our pattern. However, there were too many individual errors and needless penalties.”

Hoppers knew South Leicester would seek to dominate up front and so it proved for the first half-hour.

There was an early try by hooker Dale Ager, converted by Rickie Aley, after Preston failed to collect a 22 drop-out and debutant winger Jonny Milliken was left defending an overlap.

Taylor responded with a simple penalty following his own dangerous break, but the visitors claimed their second try, by flanker Gareth Turner.

Aley again converted, and added a penalty late in the half, but not before Hoppers had earned their first try, prop Pete Altham being on hand to drive over. Taylor added the extras, so it was 17-10 to the visitors at the break.

Hoppers had a nightmare start to the second period, with lock Reece Tomlinson yellow-carded for his part in a dust-up and, seven minutes later flanker Will Lees followed him into the sin-bin for a mid-air challenge.

Remarkably, Hoppers shrugged off Tomlinson’s absence to record theirs – and Altham’s – second try, converted by Taylor, after a powerful drive by lock John McKenzie.

But two extra men proved too much of a defensive handful and, before they were restored to full strength, South Leicester drove flanker Will Evans over for an unconverted touchdown, and then saw replacement Jacob Heath also go over, with Aley’s kick taking the score to 29-17.

With a stream of substitutions on both sides – including a nasty cut to the head for home hooker Alan Holmes – the changes seemed to galvanise Hoppers more than South Leicester.

But there was only five minutes left when Preston’s enterprise finally paid off with the first of Taylor’s tries. He could not convert, but one last attack, coolly controlled and clinically finished, saw Milliken send the full-back over again with sufficient space to get round behind the posts and make his conversion of the bonus-point try a formality.

Ironically, other results pushed Preston down a place to 13th in National League Two North.

But the coaches were more than happy to take three points from a game which had looked like producing nothing, and Dew had plenty of plaudits to hand out at the end. “The whole pack had a good game,” he said.

“The two sin-binnings ruined us. But the lads coming off the bench made an impact and Alex Zavallis-Roebuck upped the tempo when he came on at fly-half.”