Gareth Dyer’s rugby column

Lewis Allens kicking was immaculate in the win over Otley
Lewis Allens kicking was immaculate in the win over Otley
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With it being the start of the Six Nations Championship this weekend I was going to focus on the tournament and the prospects for the teams involved.

But having been pretty scathing in my comments about Hoppers in last week’s column, it is only right that I balance those comments after last Saturday’s emphatic and morale-boosting win over Otley.

I have written a piece about the Six Nations for the Hoppers website for those who would like to read my thoughts on how the Championship might play out this year. Essentially for me, Ireland and England will be the two teams that will fight for the title.

But whilst England versus France will be the centre of attention this Saturday, local attention should also be given in equal share to events in Leicestershire this Saturday.

For Hoppers’ visit to Hinckley – a team they have beaten well at home earlier this season – provides a real opportunity for the Lightfoot Green side to open up a gap between them and the sides above them at the bottom of the table. It could be that this is a pivotal weekend in the relegation battle.

Hoppers climbed off the bottom of the table with last week’s win and have been replaced by Sheffield Tigers, who face third- from-bottom Wharfedale at home. Last weekend’s opponents Otley can do Hoppers a favour when they host Scunthorpe at home.

Hoppers will also hope that Lancashire rivals Sedgely Park can get a win at Luctonians to keep the Herefordshire side looking anxiously over their shoulders.

But what happens elsewhere will mean nothing if Hoppers cannot take care of their own business.

They should however be buoyed with last weekend’s performance. In last week’s column I talked about the side’s inability to learn from the constant mistakes that had been evident in the gut wrenching defeat to Scunthorpe the week before.

The inability to play for territory and the constant indiscipline were giving Hoppers no chance to win games. However last weekend it was suddenly as if a switch had been flicked.

Straight from the off the home side kicked intelligently for territory with both half-backs using the wet and slippy conditions to give the Otley back three a thorough examination. It was one that they were unable to pass.

Having secured starting positions in the Otley third, the home side were patient in possession and kept the pressure on the visitors. The indiscipline was all from the away side and with Lewis Allen immaculate in his goal kicking, Hoppers kept the scoreboard ticking over on a regular basis. The Hoppers front five laid a solid foundation that allowed the sprightly and hardworking Hoppers back row to roam the field looking for opportunities in both attack and defence.

The trio complimented each other superbly but I though No.8 Matt Frings had an outstanding match. He was prominent in everything Hoppers did and gave some real focus and leadership with his performance.

As the weather got worse, the better Hoppers played and more it made you wonder where this level of performance and game-management had been hiding for most of the season.

Whether it was the conditions that had focused the collective Hoppers’ mind we cannot be sure but where there had been indecision and overplaying in previous matches, we now had simplicity and clarity.

What has never in been in doubt throughout this season is the player’s willingness to work hard for the shirt. The work ethic on Saturday was superb. When that is balanced with intelligence you get the kind of result that we saw last weekend.

It is to be hoped that this was not a flash in the pan performance and that the players stay humble enough to recognise that they will have to repeat this level of performance – and crucially still improve – if they are to rescue their season.

There were still unnecessary unforced errors that prevented good attacking positions from bringing further rewards. Forcing passes which weren’t really on or losing concentration at vital lineouts in the Otley 22 in the end meant Hoppers only scored three tries – thus one short of what would have been a vital and deserved try bonus point.

Hoppers mustn’t rest on their laurels or stop the learning process for what will be 11 cup finals between now and the end of the season.

Securing wins will be paramount but when the chance presents itself to take full value for their efforts then they must be ruthless enough to do so.

Hoppers have given themselves the opportunity to build some momentum with just over a third of the season to go. Getting a consecutive win this weekend and hopefully some other favourable results that didn’t go for them last weekend and anything is possible.