A final game pencilled in for this tremendous U16 side
'Loo reach another Lancs Cup Final but credit to Hoppers too who pushed them all the way.
Firstly an apology for the lateness of this report however this game clashed with the culmination of the cycling 'Spring Classics' and the most important one day race in the world and this had to take centre stage for my Sunday afternoon. 'Paris-Roubaix' takes in 260 km of North Eastern France and is known as the 'Hell of the North' or the Queen of all the classic races. To put it into context, the best riders in the world take part, but many don't finish, there are numerous crashes and injuries on cobbled roads and this year one rider died having suffered a cardiac arrest. The riders finished bloodied and muddied but to have a win on their 'palmares' is considered a massive honour.
So who wins such a race? Is it the stick thin Chris Froome or the tiny Colombians who are brought up breathing the rarified air of the high mountains and excel in the Grand Tours? Not a chance, winners are generally comparatively stocky hard men from Belguim or Netherlands (or in this case the world road race champion Petr Sagan from Slovakia) who can bully their way to the front and surf over the cobbles at a ridiculous 45 kmph and for once ride away from the competition who can't even stay in their slipstream.
So that was Sunday...Monday was taken up with my own 'Ronde Van Lancashire' and its taken until now to settle over the computer.
What on earth has cycling got to do with rugby? There is no getting away from the fact that their are horses for courses. Pitches, opposition and conditions will benefit different teams and the wide open spaces of Firwood Waterloo's Memorial Ground on a bright, dry morning were ideal for the splendid 'Loo back line.
Hoppers meanwhile have plenty of big boys up front in their line up, Waterloo kicked off to them and the Prestonians used the front row to truck it up several times before throwing a deeper pass and allowing a centre to burst onto the ball at speed. A Waterloo player got low, dipped into the tackle and stopped the lad in his tracks, dislodging the ball forward. Fantastic tackle, I presumed it was one of the forwards but then saw Benedict get to his feet (and apologies but that is how my e-notes end though I do recall a score directly from this tackle), a really significant contribution.
So, from memory.... 'Loo took control and the ball was thrown around utilising something akin to 'chaos theory' with mazy running, offloads, forwards using soft hands to release others crashing on, backs broken field running and interplay creating a further three tries including a memorable score from Alex Barker who celebrated with a swallow dive. All of this resulted in a frustrated Hoppers lad being shown yellow.
But what did we say about different styles? Hoppers went back to basics and from a line out deep in 'Loo territory bashed away for several phases before going over the line and then early in the second half they scored twice to bring matters back to within one score. Firstly another line out won by PGH...not to worry, Alfie Mutch burst through their maul as it formed, ripped the ball and went to ground to present to his fellow forwards. Sadly, the forwards hadn't read this punchy play and Hoppers stepped over Alfie, secured the ball and went over. Soon after they had another line out maul on the left and 'Loo failed to bend their backs get low and resist the drive....over Hoppers crashed.
This all resulted in a strange passage of play, 'Loo themselves secured a line out and subsequent five-metre scrum, however despite having the put-in deep in attacking territory it felt as though it was 'Loo under pressure and the scrum was reset several times before finally quick ball was won and in a flash 'Loo were over on the right. This changed the game, clearly Hoppers had put everything into the previous ten minutes and were spent. Waterloo cut loose and ran in several tries, memorable among them were a right wing burst from Will Loughnane who dashed under the posts and a break by Keir Gordon down the left, expertly cutting inside the full-back and outpacing the covering defenders...no less than brilliant.
I really hope this isn't too harsh, contrasting a dashing performance by the backs with a tough day at the office for the pack, who to be fair had battled hard and left it all on the pitch. It's not as if anyone took a backward step, just some points to work on. Credit must go to Hoppers who displayed real power but eventually ran out of steam and I am conscious that I don't go overboard in celebrating achievements such as reaching the Lancashire Cup final for a number of years on the run but there is so much yet to strive for and I suspect nobody knows this more than the players themselves and the coaching team who seek to prepare a team for the upcoming floodlit cup final at New Brighton.
Once this festival style floodlit final is out of the way there is a great warm up game versus Old Rishworthians before the Lancashire final on the 29th of April, with another tough game at Aldwinians versus a Sefton team who have developed well over the last three years and the boys will have to put in a similar performance as last years quarter final when they stood tall in grotty conditions and repelled Sefton in a very close game. It's sure to be a great advert for Merseyside junior rugby...in the heart of Manchester!
Full time 45-15.