Sandal 24, Hoppers 26
This was an exciting game for any neutrals in the crowd but for committed supporters' fingernails were in short supply by the end of the game.
But, unlike on many occasions last season, this time Hoppers were the beneficiaries of a last play score to take the spoils.
Although Hoppers did not start well, with full back Niall Crossley sent to the sin bin in the first minute, after 25 minutes they were cruising with three tries in the locker and a 19-point lead.
However the second half was a different story as Sandal roared back to take the lead but it was debutant Matt Lamprey, who powered over at the end with Jake Squirel too win the match. Relieved player coach Paul Arnold commented: “We had nine new players in the squad and there were understandably a few teething problems.
“We switched off at half time and thought playing down the hill would be more of an advantage.
“We lost shape and discipline and Sandal controlled much of the possession in the second period but we showed courage and spirit to come back and win the game.
“Sandal are a good side and I’m pleased with the bonus point win”
He singled out debutant young scrum half Squirrel “whose nerveless last conversion won the game.”
After surviving early pressure, a carry by Chris Roddy led to an attacking line-out and Paul Arnold drove over on eight minutes, Squirrel converting. After some home pressure, a backs move and interchange by new centre pairing Sam Stott and James Fitzpatrick saw the latter cross under the sticks and the kick made it 14 -0. It was Sandal’s turn to suffer a yellow card next for a tip tackle and Hoppers took advantage, No.8 Lamprey barrelling over.
But restored to full strength and with Fitzpatrick taking a turn in the sin bin, after some epic goal line defence, home skipper Tom Coad caught Hoppers defence napping with a tap penalty to score, making the score 19-5 at the break.
The second half was a different story with home centre Steve Nolson carving his way through some indifferent tackling to touch down from the restart.
Hoppers were guilty of some handling errors while the opposition backs ran some good lines and a kick ahead led to a try for No.10 Tom Allott and at 17-19 it was ‘game on’.
Sandal kept up the momentum and winger Cameron Bainbridge outpaced a tiring defence in the 74th minute and the kick seemed to secure a 24-19 home win.
But Hoppers’ last-ditch wide attack saw Lamprey use his power to crash over and Squirrel’s conversion won the day.