Ugly victory gets Hoppers off mark

Hoppers coach Garth Dew
Hoppers coach Garth Dew
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Preston Grasshoppers scrambled to their first win of the season in National League Two North in a stop-start game where neither side were at their best.

In Hoppers’ mitigation, they had to operate without scrum-half Sam Kindred, off with a leg injury inside eight minutes, with Scott Jordan switching from the wing to an unfamiliar role at the base of the scrum.

But they could hardly blame that reshuffle for a misfiring line-out in the first half, some poor ball-retention in attack and an unusually high tally of missed tackles.

“It was a scrappy game and an ugly win,” said head coach Garth Dew, “but an incredible win in the circumstances.

“I was very frustrated with our game management, but the set-piece did improve and there was some nice interplay among the backs. The breakdown was a mess for both teams and the game never got going.

“The pack is going to have to keep working. Our defence is very diligent but we slipped off a few tackles. It wasn’t pretty but it was a home win and that’s the main thing.”

Hoppers were first on the scoreboard with a well-taken try by winger Charles Hough, latching onto Mark Murray’s pass a few metres out after the fly-half’s brother Ally had won a line-out.

Full-back Sean Taylor converted but Sale hit back with an unconverted try in the corner by No 8 Jonathan Keep. Taylor and fly-half Liam McGovan exchanged two penalties each to make it 13-11 at the end of a less-than-enthralling first half.

Christian Taylor took over as hooker after the break and Hoppers’ line-out work did get better, but it took 15 minutes to get the scoreboard ticking over again.

The ever-threatening Sean Taylor went over for another excellent try after Hough had collected Mark Murray’s well-placed cross-kick and fed the ball inside, but the full-back was unable to convert.

Sale were creating plenty of chances for their back line, especially through lively winger Ciaran Connolly,but their finishing was woeful, even when presented with the chance of an overlap, so they had to settle for a simple penalty by McGovan to keep themselves within bonus-point range.

Chances continued to go begging at either end but Hoppers finally sealed a welcome win as the game went into stoppage time. A charge from a scrum by centre Billy Woof, who had come on when Kindred was injured, took play almost to the Sale line, where replacement back-row forward Sam Gale was on hand to crash over.

Sean Taylor added the conversion and, amazingly, there was even time for Hoppers to come close to bagging a bonus-point try, but again the finishing wasn’t clinical enough.

Dew was delighted with the work of prop Oga Mabaya and 18-year-old replacement lock John Mackenzie who, he said, has quickly found his feet at this level and is “extremely physical”.

The victory, along with last week’s losing bonus point, moved Hoppers up to eighth place, but there will is a general recognition that there is plenty of work still to be done.