Preston Grasshoppers 27 – 26 Kirkby Lonsdale

Kirkby took on promotion contenders Preston Grasshoppers on  Saturday at Lightfoot Green. The home side scraping home by the narrowest of margins and it was a visibly wilting Hoppers who, although in possession and in an attacking position, booted the ball off the pitch to end the game the moment the ref called time. It was five tries to two with each side gaining a penalty try but the Hoppers willingness to infringe yielded penalties and the deadly boot of Kirkby full back Ryan Terry took the points with four penalties and a conversion to make it the highest total Hoppers have conceded at home this season. For the uninitiated penalty tries do not now need to be converted and seven points is automatically awarded. A steady downpour made conditions very greasy on the 4G artificial pitch and it is a home advantage that teams who don’t play on these surfaces do take some time to familiarise and settle in. Hoppers were in for their first try from number four Paul Arnold with only five minutes on the clock but their goal kicker, stand-off Will Hunt, was having one of those games and he didn’t put a single kick between the posts all day, 5 – 0. Terry narrowed it to 5 – 3 with a penalty but Hoppers extended it again with their second try from right wing Scott Jordan to make it 10 – 3 before Terry narrowed it again with another penalty to make it 10 – 6 at the end of the first quarter. The set scrum was one area where the big Hoppers pack had an advantage and their third try came from that set piece near the Kirkby line when their County number eight Matt Lamprey was driven over, 15 – 6. It became 15 – 9 from yet another Hoppers infringement when Terry slotted his third penalty and 15 – 12 as half time approached as he coolly banged over a long range kick and at half time with only a three points deficit Kirkby’s optimism would have been high. For the second half Kirkby’s Stu Storey replaced Alex Rogers in the back row with Cameron Rowse replacing Elliot Horner in the front row, the prop had an immediate impact and was a prominent part of Kirkby’s attack when they maintained play in the Hoppers twenty two. Stand-off Dave Barton saw space and put a clever chip over the defence and into the try zone where the defender, under pressure from winger Martyn Knapton, scooped the ball off the pitch with his arm and over the dead ball line, the seven point penalty try taking Kirkby into the lead at 15 – 19, ecstasy. Then immediately agony as Kirkby’s David Maka, a towering presence in the game at number eight, reached high for the restart but couldn’t catch it cleanly, the ball slipping through his fingers behind him and into the path of Hoppers Chris Roddy who hacked on and managed to get a hand on the ball millimetres inside the dead ball line and Hoppers were back in front at 20 – 19 seventeen minutes into the half. But it was a different game now with Hoppers struggling to stay with the tempo Kirkby were injecting. A strong run from centre Scott Armstrong took play deep into home territory, he was hauled down but the ball was recycled and the move continued ending with a try for Stu Storey wide on the right. Terry’s ‘trick shot’ conversion bounced off the crossbar but it came down on the scoring side and Kirkby were deservedly back in the lead at 20 – 26 as the third quarter came to an end. Hoppers were straining every sinew, their forwards driving relentlessly at Kirkby but a turnover gave Kirkby possession, Barton cleared down the right but didn’t find touch. The catcher caught the ball but was engulfed by Kirkby’s number seven Andre Potgieter. The referee deemed the tackle to be high and he issued an immediate yellow card. There you go then, Kirkby were down to fourteen men and still leading 20 – 26 with ten minutes to play although the penalty gave  Hoppers an attacking lineout near the Kirkby line and the assault was on as the clock ran down. Repeated thrusts for the line were held and there were a number of scrums in which Hoppers had the nudge and, agonisingly, Kirkby conceded a late penalty try to give Hoppers the win at 27 – 26. Kirkby were desperately  unlucky and will look forward to the return fixture with home advantage. They gained much credit and appreciation from the  Hoppers spectator and the travelling faithful. They were worth more than the losing bonus point. Team 1   Dan Thompson 2   Matt Holyland 3   Elliot Horner 4   Leandro Kwiczor 5   Gareth Gore 6   Alex Rogers 7   Andre Potgieter 8   David Maka 9   Harry Huddleston 10 Dave Barton 11 Josh Maddock 12 Tom Pickthall © 13 Scott Armstrong 14 Martyn Knapton 15 Ryan Terry   Bench 16 Cameron Rowse 17 Craig Galbraith 18 Stu Storey