TO play away at the second placed side in National Three was always going to be too much of a hurdle for Malvern to overcome in this EDF National Trophy cup tie.

With the breeding ground of such illustrious England names as Dooley, Borthwick and Greenwood adorning the walls of a clubhouse which smacked of a long tradition, the Worcestershire amateurs were made warmly welcome by their Lancastrian hosts - off the field, at least.

The speed of thought and fitness demanded at the higher level soon made itself evident as, after some early exchanges of the high ball, Grasshoppers started to move the ball around, their big backs running good angles and switching emphasis to test the Malvern defensive ramparts. In the seventh minute a good move and a superb pick up saw the number eight, Retallack, go over for the first try and skipper Bailey opened his 100 per cent conversion rate to put the home side in the lead. It was all Preston from then on as Malvern struggled to keep up with a far faster pace of game then found at Level 6, but they defended valiantly for another 14 minutes until the ball was spread wide for a try in the corner, closely followed by a drive through the middle .

With the Malvern back row and three-quarters faced with an endless wave of Preston attacks, three more tries were shipped in. However; Malvern had been kick started and, having held their own in the tight, began to find some self confidence. Hynes, Taylor and Rawle carried some ball, the pack went on a series of drives and Preston were feeling some pressure, conceding penalties and having a lock binned as the half came to an end.

At 42-0 a rout looked on the cards, especially when Preston scored through the middle straight after half time. However, Malvern were playing for pride and Hooper put a superb long range penalty into touch near the corner. The pack went on the drive, reaching the line only for the maul to be collapsed deliberately. The referee, apparently not a favourite at Preston, had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try to Malvern. Ted Lang converted and the visitors visibly grew in stature. Whilst unable to match the Lancastrians in the wide open spaces, Malvern's tight game was more successful.

Wily veteran prop Steve Cooper gave his opposite number a torrid afternoon and when the pick and drive was put into action the Malvern back row boys were adept at inching their way forwards. With Preston's line out being put under pressure, the second half turned into a much more even affair and on the hour Malvern's perseverance was rewarded. From another penalty, Malvern had a line out deep in home territory. The catch and drive was employed and Shaun Lancett came off the side of the maul to dash in for a try. Preston replied five minutes later as the scrum half went through on the blind side then added another try 8 minutes from the end. However, Malvern had the last word as they showed no signs of tiring, opening up for Hooper to break to the line and Julian Lambert to put the finishing touch to a third try.

The perceived wisdom before the match amongst the Malvern following was that they would be lucky to keep the gap to 50 points, so director of rugby David Robins was very upbeat about the performance. "The lads did Malvern, and Worcestershire junior rugby, proud today. It took the whole of the first half for them to get used to the extra pace, and they were faced with a strong and mobile side, obviously well-coached, which moved and recycled the ball so well.

"However, we held them up front, and my personal Man of the Match was Steve Cooper, who is Malvern through and through and who always comes to the rescue when we have problems at prop. His opposite number will know he's met The Cooperman'.

"Shaun Lancett, with another try, got the Preston players' vote, and a case of lager, but the whole side showed great courage and determination, coming back to be on equal try scoring terms in the second half. They will have learned a lot today and can hopefully put it into practice when back on league duty against Newbold this Saturday."