This weekend we saw the newly relegated Preston Grasshoppers turn up on a glorious day at Heywood road. Despite being relegated this season, for 20 minutes in the first half, the visitors demonstrated why they’ve scored so many tries. They surely must bounce straight back to National 2 North next season.
After an opening passage of play that would grace any rugby ground including slick handling and a crossfield kick from Chris Johnson, Gaz Rawlings ran in our first try with just over a minute on the clock. The sizeable crowd of nearly 1000 people were in fine voice and were getting ready for some champagne rugby. Just 10 minutes later, the man being touted as the “New Jason Robinson” showed some blistering pace from 85 metres out, some fancy footwork more reminiscent of Fiji Seven’s Star, Waisale Serevi, he was over for a spectacular try. If you watch the highlights video, from receiving the ball to placing it down, was 11 seconds, a truly blistering turn of speed.
Preston looked shellshocked, the home supporters were lapping it up in the sunshine and we were on course for a cricket score. Then, for the first time since early February, Liam McGovern missed a kick (dropping his percentage to just over 95% for 2017). Maybe this woke Preston up, or maybe this is why we went to sleep. Whatever it was, Preston scored a superb try from a lovely grubber kick for the winger to pick up on the bounce, stepping off his right foot twice, he beat the cover and scored. Converted and we were at 12-7. Not 8 minutes later and the other wing was over the line for another a beautiful kick down the line and the bounce kicked up awkwardly into the waiting hands of the 14 who raced through over the line, duly converted. All of a sudden it was looking like a dog fight at 12-14 rather than a cricket score.
Sale were trying all the tricks they knew, rather than playing simple rugby, too many offloads, long passes which were just not working as the Preston defence held solid. Another ten minutes passed before Joe Kelly returning to the starting line up, powered his way over the line from a driving maul and restored the lead for Sale FC. Unfortunately for the Hoppers, they didn’t trouble the scoreboard again as Sale FC found their mojo and started running hard and straight.
Tom Davenport went over to secure the bonus point try on the stroke of half time through some very direct running and slick hands. Duly converted and we were suddenly back with a healthy lead. On the stroke of halftime it was 26-14.
When Sale came out for the second half they were running pretty much at will, controlling the game in the breakdown and when the ball was slipped out to Paolo Odogwu, he moved at speed off one foot then the other and went through unopposed. His electric pace, sheer physical strength and quick hands create opportunities to score almost every time he gets the ball in his hands, but this team isn’t a one man show. Chris Johnson was now pulling the strings beautifully with a chip ahead gathered and offloaded to Sam Stelmaszek who was over for his try.
Yesterday demonstrated that the pack as well as the backs can score and perhaps the most popular try of the day came from replacement prop Laurence Sanderson who came barrelling in from 22 metres out, with Preston players being shown a clean pair of heals (as well as a sizeable frame). This was Laurence’s first try of the season and it was beautifully taken after Tom Davenport was involved twice in the build up.
With more than 25 minutes left Sale were in full flight and the score was now 43-14. We still had time for the speed of Ciaran Connolly to go over, Ciaran had a slightly frustrating day as Preston marshalled him well, and he was receiving the ball with very little space. However, if you give him any space at all, he demonstrated that his pace is hard to match in this league and he outstripped four defenders on an outside arc to score bringing up the half century, with the conversion we were now 52-14.
Tom Postlethwaite coming off the bench, put the icing on the cake for a powerful performance crossing over to help guide us to 59 points.
Big moments of the game today weren’t just the tries, watching Joe Kelly get up a head of steam and pinging defenders off was worth the entry price alone as was the cheer from the crowd when Player Coach Jonathan Keep made some solid hits in midfield. Jamie Bache had an outstanding game again and will surely be missed next season if his career move to the US takes place.
Full Time Score 59-14
Smart Storage Man of the Match: Gaz Rawlings
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