Wirral 14, Preston Grasshoppers 17: Hoppers fight back for victory
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Conditions were Arctic as Hoppers kicked off with the strong wind behind them and were immediately under pressure as, despite driving their hosts’ scrum, the ensuing penalty took them back to their own 22 where a break by Wirral centre, Harvey, gave them the first try on the third minute of the game. He then converted to give the home side a seven point lead.
The game settled into a fast, running battle with both sides gaining and losing ground between the 22s.
Hoppers were unable to capitalize on their following wind advantage and just twenty minutes later, with the biting cold making secure handling difficult, they were facing a score of 14-0 when No.8, Pearl crossed and Harvey converted again.
Hoppers regrouped and made a series of breaks from extended passing moves which took them to the Wirral red zone where, camped on their hosts’ try line, a string of four penalties taxed the referee’s patience and they were awarded a penalty try.
With half time approaching another fast passage of play by the Preston backs enabled hooker Chris Taylor to score in the corner and the teams went to the sheds at 14 – 12.
The second half saw Wirral kicking for territory at every opportunity and the penalty count for both sides, along with a procession of scrums made for a stop-start contest. Yellow cards and injuries to both sides resulted in un-contested scrums for periods of the game as key players were off the field.
Preston began to get the upper hand and having driven their hosts’ scrum for most of the game, they were able to keep play in the Wirral half. Constantly attacking inside the 22 resulted in a third try, this time by Sam Stott, putting them in the lead by 17-14, a score which, despite relentless pressure on the Wirral 5m line, remained the same at the final whistle.
Head coach Paul Arnold was happy with the win, he said: "The score line was closer than I’d have liked and I would have enjoyed the bonus point but this is a tough, tough place to come and play.
"They are a dogged side and love to slow the game down so to come back from 14-0 in the first half to score three tries and win the match is a real achievement against a side who have beaten several teams above them in the table."
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