Gareth Dyer’s monthly rugby column

Action from Hoppers' recent 60-14 win against Birkenhead Park
Action from Hoppers' recent 60-14 win against Birkenhead Park
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Gareth Dyer is head of rugby operations at Preston Grasshoppers.

First month complete, five games down. 
Unbeaten 
so far. A pleasing start for Preston Grasshoppers but a long way to go.

After a very busy summer that saw us implement a new coaching structure, recruit a brand-new coaching group and add 20-plus players to the playing squad there was always going to a period of ‘getting to know’ you for the new set-up.

Throw in what looked like a tough opening six rounds of fixtures before the first rest week after this weekend’s game against Kirkby Lonsdale, and you could almost sense some trepidation as we began the campaign.

That we have remained unbeaten during September and taken 22 league points from 25 available is therefore a pleasing start.

But it is just that, a start. No one is getting carried away as there are lots of areas for us to improve on.

The points we dropped were due to a drawn game at Hull, a game on reflection we know we could and perhaps should have won with something to spare. A slow start due to a horror four-hour journey to Humberside that day could have been used as an excuse.

But one thing about Paul Arnold and his group is that excuses are not looked for or accepted.

In all five games to date we have shown positive spells of play but we are yet to put in that full 80-minute performance.

We have week-on-week started to show for longer periods our ability and last week at Kendal we probably bossed the game for 50 to 60 minutes overall.

The Kendal match was always going to be a good indicator of our progress.

A local derby against a rival club playing its first match at a brand-new state-of-the-art facility in front of a large and passionate home crowd was a test of character and mentality.

It was to be expected that the home side would be fired up in the first 20 minutes and so it proved.

But I felt we handled that opening blast well.

We didn’t see a lot of the ball but we looked comfortable with our defence and we worked out quickly where we felt the home side were vulnerable.

We dominated the second and third quarters of the match and scored some nice tries but again probably felt that we let several good scoring opportunities go begging.

Teams who have ambitions to do well over a season must display a ruthless streak. At the end of last week’s game, the home side still had an outside chance of taking the game when they should have long since been dead and buried.

Yes, we played the final few minutes out without too much alarm but we let them get a losing bonus point for being less than seven behind when the final whistle blew. We should have ensured that shouldn’t have been the case.

Tomorrow’s game will again be a good test of our ability. Kirkby have got that winning mentality after several seasons of success.

This might be their first season at this level but they’ve already shown they are able to compete and they will come to Lightfoot Green with nothing to lose.

The Lightfoot Green factor is something we’ve talked about.

In recent seasons, we have lost far too many games at home.

We need to make our ground a tough place to come and play for opposition teams and get back to seasons of old where few teams got much change out of their trips to the Green.

Yes, we might have one of the best facilities anywhere in the country but we must ensure that it is us that is inspired by our surroundings, not the opposition.

Tomorrow is therefore an opportunity for us to lay down a marker in many ways. It is an opportunity to put in that 80-minute performance, it is an opportunity for us to make a real statement about how we want to play at home and it is an opportunity to keep our unbeaten run going through a difficult run of fixtures.

If we can do that then we can head into the first rest weekend with a positive mind-set. We will then have two weeks to allow the lads to get over one or two niggles and work on those areas that need attention ahead of the next challenge.

Slip up tomorrow and it will be two long weeks of frustration before we resume our league campaign.