Preston Grasshoppers 19, Lymm 16
Preston Grasshoppers went five points clear at the top of the North Premier League with this hard-earned victory over second-placed Lymm.Three points in arrears at half-time, they dominated the second period on a day when their artificial surface meant play was never in doubt despite the cold weather and a snow flurry just before kick-off.Head coach Paul Arnold said: “Lymm defended just like their record (of only 90 points conceded in 10 games) suggested they would, and we had to grind out the victory.“The message at half-time was to make sure we stopped making silly little mistakes and giving them field position. We keep setting ourselves new goals week by week and we had worked on our defence all week to stop them going wide.”There was just one defensive lapse which let Lymm hooker Adam Bray in for 19th-minute try, otherwise the plan worked well and, with total domination at the scrum and good work at the line-out, the Hoppers pack ensured the visitors had to work flat-out to keep them down to three tries.“Lymm targeted the offload really well,” said Arnold, which meant that rampaging runs by the likes of himself, Matt Lamprey and man-of-the match Ally Murray did not always get the reward they deserved.Hoppers made all the early running and, although Lamprey lost control of an attempt at a pushover try, he got a second chance when Lymm were penalised on the line and made no mistake to claim his 11th try of the campaign as the Hoppers eight put on one of numerous huge surges in the scrum.Squirrel converted but that only sparked the visitors’ best spell of the game, with sustained pressure bringing skipper Bray’s try, converted by Cormac Nolan.The full-back also kicked a 35-metre penalty to put his side ahead but Hoppers ended the half on top again, without being able to capitalise.Nolan missed an early second-half penalty as Hoppers restarted in sloppy fashion, but Murray calmed the nerves after a punishing 20-metre driving maul by the hosts set up a series of pick-and-goes near the line before the flanker crashed over.Squirrel again converted but missed a penalty after a charge by Arnold. Hoppers again laid siege to the line and, not for the first time, showed great patience in mounting a succession of forward thrusts before finally unleashing their backs against a stretched defence, with full-back Scott Jordan the ultimate beneficiary to dive over in the corner.Lymm tried one last counter, but had to settle for a Nolan penalty to salvage a losing bonus point with the last play of an entertaining game. It was a sign of the ambition in this Hoppers team that Arnold said his players were disappointed to have let their rivals get away with that bonus point.