Chester 48 Preston Grasshoppers 37
A real attacking threat.
What a great way to kick off the season and celebrate the opening of Chester’s new AGP pitch – a sunny day, a packed pre-match lunch, a large crowd and a try fest with Chester coming out on the right end of the result.
Chester got off to an early lead with Josh Morris kicking a penalty following a late tackle on Sean Green. Unfortunately Sean picked up a shoulder injury and his first competitive game of the season lasted only 3 minutes. Almost immediately Hoppers failed to deal with a high kick, allowing Chester left wing Andrew Oakden to break clear of a despairing cover defence and cross from 40 metres out. At 10-0 in front after only 4 minutes, it might have seemed as if Chester were going to take a firm grip on proceedings, but any such impression was misleading. Hoppers bounced back using their big pack to build strong attacking positions, and winning two penalties in rapid succession to pull back to 10-6 after 10 minutes.
The match was to retain this topsy-turvy pattern, with each side managing having short periods of ascendancy but unable to build a decisive lead until well into the second. Towards the end of the first quarter a penalty allowed the home side to set up an attacking lineout close to Hoppers’ try line. The Chester pack quickly set up a well-constructed maul and drove infield for a well taken try with Andy Baston touching down. Fullback Josh Morris converted to make the score 17-6. However, proceedings now swung strongly towards Hoppers. Their pack was by now asserting itself forcefully, first driving a 5 metre lineout of their own and then, when Chester the defence illegally pulled their maul down, forcing the home pack backwards from the resulting scrum, This allowed No.8 Matt Lamprey to cross wide out for an unconverted try.
Five minutes later, following a series of 5 metre scrums they repeated the process, Lamprey crossing again. This time fly half Tom Davidson converted successfully to put Hoppers in front 17-18. True to form, however, Chester struck back 2 minutes later when Mike Craven touched down for a converted try following another well driven 5 metre lineout.
On the point of half time the home support was able to breathe more easily when Chester stretched their lead to 13 points with an excellent try from No. 8 Kyle Joseph. The forwards drove the ball at the front of a lineout 30 metres from Hoppers’ line, then controlled possession patiently through seven phases. This stretched the visitors’ defence to breaking point when the ball was moved right. The chance looked lost when Josh Morris appeared to ignore an overlap on his outside, but he cleverly offloaded in contact to find Kyle in support.
Almost from the restart Chester put together another patient attack, which demonstrated the speed and attacking potential of the home backs. First fly half Callum Bennett and then outside centre Adam King made clean breaks. Adam proved uncatchable and crossed for a converted try from 40 metres out. Chester now appeared comfortable at 20 points in front, but once again appearances proved misleading. Hoppers bounced back with a series of pick and goes close to the home try line before their forceful inside centre James Fitzpatrick proved unstoppable from close range. The conversion brought his side back to within two scores at 38-25. Within 5 minutes Hoppers dominance at scrum time yielded a penalty, which allowed them to set up a 5 metre lineout. This they inevitably drove, scoring a converted try after a series of pick and goes.
At only six points behind and with almost half an hour to play, the match was once again in the balance. Five minutes later Josh Morris scored a penalty to restore Chester’s two score lead, but Hoppers came close to scoring soon after only to be penalised for crossing deep in the home 22.
Chester finally took a decisive lead with only 8 minutes left. Josh Morris fielded a Hoppers diagonal kick and ran the ball back at them. After three quick recycles the ball went to Adam King who spotted a mismatch in midfield, took the gap and crossed for a converted try. With a 16 point lead Chester now looked comfortable, but Hoppers were not yet done. Their fullback Scott Jordan managed an unconverted try with last play of the game. This was a successful bonus point win for Chester, demonstrating the side’s attacking potential. As for Hoppers, they were well worth their try bonus point.