Preston Grasshoppers 29, Hull Ionians 7

Paul Arnold off-loads to James Gough for the first try. (Photo: Mike Craig)
Paul Arnold off-loads to James Gough for the first try. (Photo: Mike Craig)

Preston Grasshoppers stunned league leaders Hull Ionians with a four-try first-half blitz which helped them to a fourth successive home win.”

Remarkably, there were no points for either side after the break, but that should take nothing away from a brilliant Hoppers display.

Head coach Paul Arnold, who had to draft himself into the starting line-up when Teddy Leatherbarrow failed a fitness test, said: “Everyone was really down and hurt after last week’s defeat, so I asked for a great performance and everyone performed really well. I am very proud of them.

“I’ve been saying for two weeks that we could beat Hull. We never let them get playing; we took the scrums and line-outs away from them.

Hoppers’ victory was based on total domination of the visitors’ pack, with Hull shunted backwards virtually from first scrum to last.

That gave scrum-half James Gough the armchair ride of his life and his industrious work won him the man-of-the-match award, although, to be fair, it could have gone to almost anyone in the team and in particular the pack.

It was Gough who set the ball rolling, stealing possession at the back of a retreating Hull scrum to combine with Matt Lamprey and Arnold, whose neat offload put the scrum-half over.

Tom Davidson converted and inside 10 minutes, Preston were 12-0 ahead as Gough’s quick tap penalty and chip ahead allowed Ally Murray to collect and put Rouban Birch in for an unconverted try.

Ionians had their first real spell of pressure and, after a knock-on cost them a try, they made amends when flanker James Sanderson went over from a line-out drive, with Lewis Minikin adding the extra points.

But Hoppers soon restored the 12-point difference when Arnold’s line-out catch ended with Luke Procter crashing over for a try converted by Davidson.

Tyler Spence thought he had got over in the corner but Connor Trueman’s pass was forward

However, there was no stopping Spence a few minutes later when Lamprey and Gough combined to put him over for the bonus-point try (his seventh of the campaign), with Davidson’s touchline conversion going over via a post.

The fly-half added a late penalty to end a hugely satisfactory – and, to some, surprising – half.

Ionians seemed to rediscover their defensive resolve after the break and managed to keep Hoppers at bay, despite their massive territorial dominance.

But they barely looked like breaking out for consolation points, even in the 10 minutes when Preston were reduced to 14 men by a yellow card for James Fitzpatrick.

Hull finally did get on the front foot in the dying minutes, but that only served to show that Hoppers had the upper hand in defence as well as most other aspects of the game.