Peterborough Lions were just seconds away from gained a highly creditable draw in National League Two this afternoon (March 9).
The city strugglers, who had lost their last five games by convincing margins, were pipped 19-12 by the once-mighty Preston Grasshoppers at Solstice Park with the visitors only clinching victory with a try just before the final whistle.
It was a brave effort by the basement boys from Bretton against a top-half-of-the-table team and the Lions actually led 12-0 at one stage.
For a change it was the Lions who started stronger than their opponents. They came out with all guns blazing, putting Grasshoppers on the back foot straight away.
A quarter-of-an-hour of non-stop pressure was rewarded with a Tom Lewis try from close range after great play in the build-up by Tom Dougherty and Suva Ma’asi.
Nico Defeo’s conversion made it 7-0 and the Lions continued to call the shots.
With half-backs Defeo and Dougherty kicking well for terrotorial gain, it always looked like the next score would come from the Lions.
And so it did. After charges for the try-line by Josh Waller (twice) and Ma’asi were ended just a few inches short, it was Aki Lea, the Lions powerful number eight, who stormed over for a try from a tapped penalty five metres out on 39 minutes.
That gave the Lions an interval lead of 12-0 and they were well worth it. The back row trio of Conor Gracey, Lea and Tom Lewis had been immense and the whole side had tackled heroically.
But it all changed in the second period.
Grasshoppers, realising they could be in for a shock defeat, upped the tempo. It was now their turn to hog the ball and they kept it well.
They reduced it to 12-7 with a converted try 10 minutes into the half and suddenly worrying gaps started to appear in the Lions defence.
Another try wide out levelled it up at 12-12 on 63 minutes and that’s how it looked like staying until Grasshoppers nicked it with a breakaway score in the 79th minute.
The Lions picked up a losing bonus point but it could so easily have been a bigger return.
Lions director of rugby Simon Moyle said: “What a difference it makes when you start well. It gave the whole side a huge lift when we scored first. We kept possession well and we all tackled well and I thought we fully deserved our half-time lead. We were the better side.
“Unfortunately mistakes were made in the second half and as we all now know at this level, mistakes get punished.”
Lions: Ben Peach, George Roberts, Shaquille Meyers, Suva Ma’asi, Micah Lestrade, Nico Defeo, Tom Dougherty, Josh Waller, Jack Lewis, Joe Lee, Marius Andrijauskas, Will Nankevil, Tom Lewis, Conor Gracey, Aki Lea. Subs: Franco Perticaro, Kaz Henderson, Martin Lewis, Christian Edbrooke, Tom Gulland.
In Midlands Division One, Borough were beaten 21-5 at table-topping Kettering while Oundle lost 41-26 at Lutterworth.