Preston Grasshoppers 34 Wirral 19
A second successive bonus-point win to start the North Premier season left Preston Grasshoppers head coach Paul Arnold a happy man.
“The early fixture list has not been kind to us and that’s just the start we wanted,” he said after this victory over what he called a “good, well-organised” Wirral side.
He added: “We weathered the storm and we were not going to give up without the bonus point. We will always keep going.”
If the Hoppers set-pieces again functioned at top level, there are worries about discipline that Arnold will be addressing. It was 18 minutes before referee Owen Taylor awarded them their first penalty – by which time he had given Wirral five – and three of the home side spent time in the sin-bin for a variety of offences.
“We are still getting used to the breakdown,” said the coach. “And there is some frustration because (with no assistant referees) the opposition are sometimes getting away with it.”
Hoppers had to put in an early defensive shift, which they survived well until centre James Fitzpatrick was yellow-carded and a quick tap penalty put Wirral scrum-half Chris Crowley over for a try converted by Jimmy Arnetts.
When Hoppers did get on the front foot, winger Connor Trueman’s kick and chase brought a line-out in the corner and a sin-binning for Wirral prop Jack Yarker. The hosts took full advantage, with man-of-the-match Matt Lamprey driving over from the back of a scrum.
Sam Stott converted and obliged again six minutes later when a flowing move from defence saw Lamprey, Fitzpatrick, Stott and Mark Murray combining to send full-back Niall Crossley over.
Stott added a conversion for a 17-7 half-time lead.
Hoppers resumed on the offensive and flanker Ollie Tripper crashed over after another burst by Lamprey, with Stott again converting.
Wirral hooker Stuart Gratton then forced his way over while home replacement Alex Isherwood was the latest occupant of the sinbin.
Things got even more hairy for the home fans when a yellow card for Trueman left Hoppers at sixes and sevens and Annetts strolled over from a tap penalty.
He could not manage the conversion but Wirral were just five points behind with 10 minutes to play.
Replacement Will Hunt calmed home nerves with a mighty penalty.
And there was even more cause for celebration as they clinched the bonus point when Lamprey scored his fourth try in two games with the last play of the afternoon.
Hunt added the final two points for a well-received win.